Thursday, 23 December 2010

Charity Cancellation

The Government has scrapped public funding for the charity Booktrust, and because it was wholly-funded by the taxpayer, it will now likely have to close.

There have been howls of derision from the left, arguing about the sterling work that Booktrust undertakes, including the Bookstart scheme, where every baby in the country is given a free pack of books in order to encourage them to read.

Truly laudable work.

However...

It is being funded wholly by the taxpayer.

It is therefore not a charity, where money is given in voluntary donations, but a Government department.

My children received the Bookstart packs when they were born. Did they read them? No. I had already bought books for them. I did not expect (or want) the State to provide that level of subsidy. They've received a couple of other packs of books as well. Have they read them? No. In actual fact, they have shown very little interest in those books. They are far more interested in the Mr. Men books, Harry Potter, Narnia, the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, a wonderful book on Greek mythology that I had when I was a kid, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter and the like.

All bought by me, or given to them as gifts by my family.

I'll buy my own, thanks.

And of course, we're missing the most obvious point... babies don't read books. Parents do.

It is largely pointless giving free books to babies if the parents aren't going to read them. And, if you look at the average council estate, you begin to wonder whether the parents there can actually read at all.

If people consider the work of Booktrust to be so laudable and desirable, I invite them to put their hands in their pockets and fund it themselves. I don't want to.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Criminals and the Right to Vote

Following the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that prisoners in the UK must be given the right to vote, the Government has announced its plans for constitutional changes to allow this.

They are political, conniving, diabolical, and absolutely fucking brilliant.

Anyone serving more than four years in jail will automatically be sentenced to be barred from registering to vote. And judges will have discretion over whether to sentence criminals serving less than that to a similar ban.

By doing this, some prisoners will get the right to vote. But not many.

The government, in the true style of twisted, lying, despicable politicians everywhere, have got off on a legal technicality.

So, a brief letter to HM Government:

James Dennis
A Tangent Reality
The Internet

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London

Dear Prime Minister,

In light of Her Majesty's Government's recent announcement clarifying their stance on prisoners' right to vote, thank you for introducing me to an amazing new experience: actually being pleased that British politicians are conniving, twisted, despicable, diabolical scumbags. You wouldn't have been able to stuff it up Europe otherwise.

However, please refrain from being bastards to us voters and taxpayers. This caveat specifically excludes anyone who is a member of the Labour Party. You can be bastards to them as much as you like.

Love and kisses,

James

PS. Leave the EU, and you won't have to be bastards at all. You can even use democracy as an excuse - just hold a referendum. We'll do the rest, I promise.


 

1-0

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Matter for Ireland

The BBC have reported that the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that the Irish ban on abortions has breached the human rights of a woman. This will likely result in a change in Ireland's law to roll back their abortion laws, at least partially.

The question I ask is, what business is that of Europe's?

Ireland has a democratically elected Parliament which creates its laws. Therefore, their laws on abortion, no matter how distasteful to some people's sensibilities, are supported by a majority of people in that country. But now, because of the judgement of an unaccountable Court, they will have someone else's sensibilities forced upon them. And that is wrong.

You can take your United States of Europe, and cram it up your dark one.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Blogosphere

The blogosphere contracts once more. Iain Dale has hung up his keyboard, and Tory Bear has gone public to work with Guido. Even Old Holborn is getting quieter - although not completely silent. I don't think my lunch hours would have quite as much humour without him!

The Blogosphere. Damn that Red Matter*.

I suppose many people turn to political blogging out of sheer frustration with the incumbent government - I know I did. The constant intrusion into my life and the injustices meted out by an incompetent, increasingly authoritarian Labour government led to my discovery of this wonderful past-time, and some of its most prolific writers. Some are now taking a bow, disappearing into the ether, perhaps to return when, inevitably, the current bunch of wankers we have in power are booted out, only to be replaced with another bunch of wankers who may not foul things up so much. That's how it generally works.

Of course, my aim from blogging is not to secure Conservative-led hegemony, but to vent my spleen. I'm not ranting as much about the Tories and the Lib Dems at the moment, because, for the most part, they don't seem to be fucking things up quite as much as the last lot. But they're only 6 months in. The last bunch of lying bastards had 13 fucking years.

*Gratuitous 'Star Trek' reference. Deal with it.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tax Avoidance

There's been a lot of fuss recently about tax avoidance, particularly noted on Twitter with the #UKuncut hashtag and @UKuncut feed, publicising the tax avoidance strategies of Vodafone and Arcadia. This has, predictably, led to demonstrations and sit-ins at Arcadia stores, and complaints against Vodafone.

Firstly, there is a big difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Tax evasion involves an attempt to minimise or negate a tax liability by deception - telling Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that profits or income is lower, or omitting to notify them of chargeable transactions. Tax evasion is illegal - it is a deliberate attempt to evade paying tax which is due.

Tax avoidance is managing finances in such a way as to minimise tax charges, but without breaking the law. This can range from detailing all costs to offset against Corporation Tax or Income Tax, paying into a pension arrangement, saving into an ISA, or using trusts to help reduce Inheritance Tax. Tax avoidance is perfectly legal - it is managing finances to avoid or minimise potential tax charges.

I have not seen any question, anywhere, of Vodafone or Arcadia being involved in tax evasion. If they were to be implicated in any way, then it should be up to the police to investigate and bring charges against them if necessary, which would be examined in a court of law. Tax evasion is wrong - it is contrary to the rule of law, and trials involving tax evasion cost the taxpayer money, reducing what can be spent on public services.

Tax avoidance is not wrong. Rolling a good throw in Monopoly to avoid landing on the Income Tax square is not generally frowned upon.

You didn't land on that square. You naughty, naughty boy.

An example.

You plan to save into a bank account, about £50 a month. You talk to your financial adviser about this (because, of course, given that I work for a financial adviser, I know that everyone in the country should have one) and he tells you that if you save into a normal bank account, any interest you receive will be taxed at 20% every year. £1 out of every £5 that you get in interest, the Government will take, simply because it can.

However, if you save into a different type of account, the Government won't charge that tax. So, do you want to have your cake and eat it?

The answer, unless you are a stark raving lunatic, is yes please.

Congratulations, you have just started saving into a Cash ISA. Perfectly legal way of avoiding a tax charge. Not evading paying one that is due, but preventing one from even occurring. Is that immoral? Most people would argue no.

Now let's magnify things up a bit.

You wish to leave your children £10million in your will. Most of it is contained in a £5million property. You've had a fantastic life, still have loads of money left, and want your kids to benefit from it. However, if you do this conventionally, this will leave your children with a whopping £3.74million Inheritance Tax bill to pay, which is a sizeable chunk of your money.

Again, you talk to your financial adviser. He tells you that, by giving your home to a limited company which you own, and paying rent on the property to that company, you will be able to avoid paying £2million in Inheritance Tax. Furthermore, you can then use a series of trusts to help mitigate the rest of the potential IHT bill. So would you like to have your cake and eat it?

Yes please.

What you have done is use Inheritance Tax business relief to exempt your main residence from tax, and then a combination of gifts and chargeable lifetime transfers to mitigate the rest. All perfectly legal, and it has saved your children £3.74million in tax. Is this immoral?

Ah, now that's a question, isn't it?

Some people would argue no, others yes. To those who argue yes, I ask this - at what point does tax avoidance become immoral? When, precisely, should you not plan your finances, but simply hand over your money to the State? Why is tax avoidance acceptable for the poor, but not for the rich?

The tax avoidance argument is nothing more than the politics of envy. Vodafone and Arcadia turn over massive profits every year, far beyond what most of us imagine earning in a dozen lifetimes. And thus, some people are insanely jealous of this. And this manifests itself as 'protesting against tax avoidance.'

If tax avoidance is legitimate for one person, it must be legitimate for another. I cannot understand why some people find it perfectly acceptable to discriminate against someone just because they have a lot of money.

Imagine if such discrimination were applied to women. Or to the disabled. Or to black people. Or to Jews.

Surely, history has taught us that if we have a society with one rule for some and another for others, then that society is apartheid?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bastard Parliament VII: Justice

David Chaytor, former Labour MP charged with false accounting, has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey.

Hat tip to Guido Fawkes for breaking the story.

[UPDATE]

Chaytor will be sentenced on January 7th at Southwark Crown Court. Guido thinks he's made a plea bargain.

In other news, Phil Woolas has also had his appeal against the Special Election Court dismissed by the High Court. He now has no prospect of returning to the House of Commons. A by-election will be held in Oldham in January.

 

2-0

On the Liberal Democrats

I have to say that I feel rather sorry for Nick Clegg. Out of all the ministers of the coalition government, he has been singled out as the target for the visceral hatred of the hard left. He is accused of betrayal, of deceit, and of taking his party in a direction against their political instincts - into coalition with the Conservatives and not with Labour.

Now, I am not a massive fan of the Liberal Democrats. I am not a massive fan of politicians per se, although I am right wing, and so tend to favour UKIP and the Conservatives more. But I will try to look at the situation impartially.

  1. No one won the General Election. This is a crucially important point. Nick Clegg (and all other Lib Dems) stood for election on the basis of their manifesto, but they didn't win. It is therefore completely unreasonable for Lib Dem supporters to expect their entire manifesto to be implemented simply because they hold some political power. Likewise for the Tories;
  2. Although no one won the General Election outright, the Tories did win the highest number of votes, and the highest number of seats in the House of Commons. Surely, any believer in democracy will recognise that it would be an outrage if the country's most popular political party was excluded from Government? That is effectively disenfranchisement;
  3. A coalition with Labour would not have had a majority in the House of Commons, with such a Government requiring the support of the DUP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to pass bills. This would have focused an enormous level of political bargaining power into parties with a small amount of representation and some with separatist tendencies;
  4. As a result of the coalition with the Tories, some Lib Dem policies are actually being enacted. The increase in the Income Tax personal allowance, the abandonment of the Tory plans to raise Inheritance Tax, the pupil premium, and a massive switch on civil liberties, including the abolition of ID cards, and a commitment to a referendum on electoral reform are all Lib Dem policies.

However, the Lib Dems are not without their own problems. Vince Cable, seemingly unable to deal with the psychological trauma of voting for higher tuition fees, is proposing to abstain from voting on a measure for which he is responsible as the relevant Secretary of State.

This is lunacy. The Government has always worked on the basis of collective responsibility - if a member of HM Government cannot agree with a policy of HM Government, then he or she should resign. If Liberal Democrat ministers feel that they cannot agree with jointly-determined policies, they should step down from the cabinet, not abstain from voting on measures they have presented to Parliament.

Of course, they won't do that. Resignations on such a scale could destroy the coalition, and trigger another election. And it is highly likely that the Lib Dems would be severely punished at such an election. Perversely, because of the inherent bias in the electoral system which has yet to be removed, such an election could result in a Labour Government.

 Ouch.

This is not a call for the Lib Dems to fall in line with the Tories. They should follow their own political convictions, and do what they think is right. But they should remember what they have accomplished in office thus far, and that the offices they hold come with responsibilities.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bastard Parliament VI: The Supreme Court's Reasons [UPDATED]

Following the Supreme Court's decision to reject the appeal of Elliot Morley, Jim Devine and David Chaytor regarding Parliamentary privilege, the Court has published the reasons for its judgement.

The UK Supreme Court

Rather sensibly, they have determined that Parliamentary privilege applies to actions undertaken which are incidental to Parliamentary duties, and that fiddling expenses is not incidental to the discharge of those duties. As such, the MPs will stand trial for false accounting in the Crown Court.

It is also interesting to note that the decision was unanimous.

And delightfully, this sets a legal precedent. Parliamentary privilege cannot be used as a defence against criminal acts which are not incidental to the discharge of Parliamentary duties.

Roll on the criminal trial...

[UPDATE]

Guido Fawkes reports that Morley, Devine & Chaytor are now trying to argue that they won't receive a fair trial because of all the publicity. There is a possibility of an emergency hearing at the Old Bailey today...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Breeding Poor

Lord Flight has been made to apologise regarding his comments about benefits, where he said that as a result of the cuts to Child Benefit, 'we're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible.'

There has been the usual response. Outcry from Labour and the unions, holding it up as an example of how 'out of touch' the Conservatives are with ordinary people. The Government have taken steps to distance themselves from the comments, and ultimately, Lord Flight has apologised.

But despite all of this, everyone seems to have avoided the awful truth... that Lord Flight is correct.

 Social decay is caused by a lack of responsibility

I lived in the Meadows in Nottingham - one of the most deprived council estates in the country - for nearly 3 years. I have seen how some people live there. I have seen the teenage mothers in the playground, picking up their children. I have heard the conversations: 'so what are you going to do after school - get a job or have a kid?'

If you are under the age of 25 and earning less than about £20,000 a year, the most financially sound decision you can make is to have a child. You then become entitled to Child Benefit, which in turn, entitles you to priority social housing (with the rent largely paid by Housing Benefit), Council Tax Benefit, Child Tax Credit, and Employment & Support Allowance. You get a tax-free income of about £20,000, without having to lift a finger.

For hundreds of thousands of young women across the country, having children is merely a meal ticket. They do it simply to avoid work. And because they have made the choice for themselves, they care little for the responsibilities they have as a parent. Children are brought up with little to no sense of responsibility themselves, often with absent fathers, and with the lack of any demonstrable work ethic or structured family life, fall into antisocial behaviour and crime.

Now, I am not saying that all people on benefits behave in this way. But some do. And to pretend otherwise is to invite the continuation of the social cancer which is destroying our country.

The answer is to force people to assume responsibility for their children. Abolish child-related benefits, and use the proceeds to increase Working Tax Credit. End the right to free social housing. Make those who have parental responsibility accountable for the actions of their children.

They will scream. They will beg, and they will plead. 'Think of the children,' they will say. The sentimental will decry the actions, saying that it is callous and cruel to treat the poor in such a way. To which the answer is:

We are oft to blame in this,--
'Tis too much proved--that with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The devil himself.

- Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, William Shakespeare

Or, in other words, 'spare the rod, spoil the child.'

Eventually, the screaming will stop, the tantrums will fall silent, and the social decay will begin to heal. But even if action is taken now, it will take generations for the damage to be undone. Such is the shoddy and despicable legacy of past Governments' refusal to acknowledge the truth.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Quote of the Day

There can be no European Democracy because there is no European Demos.
- Enoch Powell

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Phil Woolas - A Rant

Phil Woolas is still trying desparately to stay in politics, despite being uncerimoniously booted out of the House of Commons by a Special Election Court after being found guilty of deliberately misleading the electorate.

His defence? That freedom of speech at elections is at stake.

At this point I will explode.

Freedom of speech? You brainless sack of monkey scrotums! Your fucking Labour Government have done more to restrict freedom of speech than ANY other Government. You sanctimonious prick. What about incitement to racial hatred? Hmmm? What about ID cards? What about Twitter Joke trials? What about the Gurkhas, despite having fought for this country, being denied the right to live here by your vile, despicable ilk? Don't talk to me about freedom, you fetid pool of arse-gravy.

And, although I am a defender of freedom of speech, there is a difference between freedom of speech and deliberately lying about a political opponent in order to get elected! Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to lie. Say what you like, but be prepared to substantiate your accusations, or face the consequences.

Freedom of speech is a right. But it comes with responsibilities.

Says it all.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

In Memoriam

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
'For your tomorrow, we gave our today.'

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Bastard Parliament V: MPs in the Dock

Common sense at last.

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that parliamentary privilege cannot be used to secure immunity from prosecution for criminal offences.

As a result, three former Labour MPs - David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine - will stand trial for false accounting, and further charges brought against others will not be able to delay or avoid them.

This does set an important legal precedent, but falls short of the constitutional reforms deeply needed. Parliament itself still reserves judicial powers - it can still act as a Court. They're still bastards. Fortunately, in this instance, the Law Lords have decided not to join them.

Bastards.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember, remember, the 5th of November...

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

405 years ago, agents working for a foreign power attempted to murder the King, his wife and children, the entire nobility, including all judges, and the elected Commons of Parliament, as a prelude to an invasion and the eventual conquest of the nation, and the Inquisition of the Church of England.


They did not succeed. English liberty was preserved, more than anything, by sheer, blind luck.

Our freedoms are hard-won, but easily lost, sometimes given away. Remember that on Bonfire Night.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Return of Inflation

Simon Ward has indicated that inflation is set to increase over the next year, finally starting to ebb away in 2012.

This will, no doubt, be leapt upon by Labour as evidence of a double-dip recession, and put pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates from their current record low of 0.5%.



However, I don't think they will.

Given the recent Comprehensive Spending Review actually commits to an increase in public spending in cash terms over the course of this Parliament, George Osborne will be relying on inflation to reduce the deficit, not cold, hard reductions in expenditure. So I don't think the Bank of England will be under any Government pressure to raise interest rates any time soon.

The Government is hoping that inflation will rise faster than their spending commitments - in fact, they are counting on it. The success of the Comprehensive Spending Review depends on it.

Inflation is here to stay, at least for a while.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Criminals and the Right to Vote

Criminals are set to get the right to vote, and people are in uproar about it. But, again, this needs to be looked at objectively.

There is a difference between human rights and civil rights. Human rights are inalienable - they extend to everyone, no matter who they are, what they have done, or what their circumstances are.

The qualifications for a civil right are a little more complex.

The logic is that because voting is a human right, then it is therefore inalienable, and it should therefore extend to prisoners, who cannot be denied human rights by law.

I agree. That they cannot be denied their human rights by law.

And since 1976, when the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights took effect (to which the UK is a signatory), the right to vote has been considered a human right.


Prisoners in China get the vote. For what it's worth in a one-party state.

I, personally, do not think it should be considered a human right. The right to vote should be a civil right, one enjoyed by law-abiding, mentally competent adults. Not incarcerated criminals, children or people incapable of managing their own affairs because of a mental disorder.

By law, we must give them the right to vote. But the law is wrong.

Actually, PEACE with France...


 In a new treaty recently signed by David Cameron and the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, the UK and France are committing to a deepening of our alliance between them - the entente cordiale - through the sharing of military resources.

This will involve:
  • Joint research into nuclear weapons with the aim of ensuring 'long-term viability, security and safety' - two joint research centres will be constructed to facilitate this;
  • The formation of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) drawing from all 3 services from both nations, available for 'bilateral, NATO, EU, UN or other' operations;
  • The UK will fit 'cat and trap' launchers to our new aircraft carrier to ensure interoperability with French jets. France will allow UK jets to use French carriers;
  • Integrated support on military transport aircraft, with aims for co-operation on training, as well as joint research into the development of spy and combat drone aircraft;
  • Aims to cut 30% of the cost of complex weapons systems through various measures, including scale purchasing, over 10 years.

Now, I am well-known for telling the occasional French joke. Okay, more than the occasional French joke. And there are plenty that I could throw into the mix right now. There was even one on my previous post. But I will try to be objective.

There are good reasons for this treaty:
  • We are both 'old world' nations with overseas territories, such as the Falklands and French Guiana, which are subject to sovereignty disputes with other nations;
  • Our military forces are approximately the same size, with similar capabilities - capabilities, which, realistically, could not enforce our disputed sovereignty claims individually;
  • We are both members of the EU and NATO, and both hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council, thereby holding veto powers in that body;
  • Our forces have a history of joint and and successful operations together - in both World Wars, and in NATO and EU operations, particularly in former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo;
  • It is politically expedient - both countries have large budget deficits which they are attempting to reduce. Pooling military costs does not affect taxation or perceived public services.

Our Government has insisted that this does not affect British sovereignty. And they are right. This is a deepening of an already well-established military alliance, not steps towards political union. However, it does limit options for both countries.

It is unlikely that either France or the UK will ever go to war without allies again. Both of us simply lack the clout required to conduct a campaign against a well-equipped, organised enemy. Although we could re-arm, voters in both countries have little appetite for high military spending for no perceived benefit. And, in the areas of overseas territories, it is fair to say that our reach exceeds our grasp. If other nations with whom we have a territorial dispute chose to enforce their claims militarily, neither France nor the the UK would be seriously capable of launching an independent campaign to respond.

My question is this: if this treaty was ever put to the test, would it stand? If Argentina invaded the Falklands again, would France help us re-capture them? Or conversely, if Madagascar chose to occupy the nearby French islands, would we come to their aid?

The courage of French troops is not in question here - if they were ordered to fight, they would do so. But would their political leaders have the conviction and resolve to support their allies?

Friday, 29 October 2010

War with France?

Downing Street has published details of gifts received by David Cameron upon entering Number 10 for the first time. The French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, gave him tennis racquets. I note that the BBC have spelt it 'rackets'. FFS...

But I digress. The last time a French head of state made a gift in relation to tennis, it resulted in a war, according to Shakespeare, anyway. The Dauphin of France gave King Henry V tennis balls in response to Henry's claim to the French throne. It was an insult, implying that Henry was a young man who should be concentrating on his sports, rather than affairs of state.

So, are we going to war with France? Let's face it, it wouldn't last long!

A Frenchman, yesterday

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Quote of the Day

'...if Parliament is indeed sovereign, then Mr Cameron should simply refuse flat to agree to any increase whatsoever in the EU’s budget.'
- Lord Tebbit

Says it all, really.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cuts? What Cuts?

George Osborne unveiled the Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday, which was met with a mixture of approval and derision, depending on your political standpoint.

However, it is interesting to note Table A.3 in the report, which lists public sector current expenditure (the country's annual household bills, if you like) in cash terms; that is, not adjusted for inflation - the real, cold hard cash.

The actual departments that are having their budgets cut over the next 5 years are:

  • Transport;
  • Communities & Local Government;
  • Business, Innovation & Skills;
  • Home Office;
  • Justice;
  • Law Officers' Departments;
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office;
  • Energy & Climate Change;
  • Environment, Food & Rural Affairs;
  • Small & Independent Bodies;
  • Special Reserve;
  • Public Sector Pensions.
Every other department is having their annual budgets increased in cash terms. We will be spending more public money at the end of this Parliament than we are now.

These aren't cuts. They're grazes.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Case for Defence

Today is the day of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Dave, aka the Prime Minister, will outline spending cuts to the defence budget, as well as the new direction for defence and security for the next few decades.

My view on defence?

There is one reason for the existence of a State - the protection of the society contained within. To maintain its sovereignty, its independence and to preserve its culture. That's it. That's all a State has to do. Everything else is an optional extra. Politics is the debate about what extras to include.

On top of that, the total defence budget is around £40billion a year, according to the most recent Budget. This is in comparison to the staggering £100billion a year we spend on out-of-work benefits, and the £122billion a year we spend on the NHS.

Cuts to the defence budget make no sense, either financially or practically.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Bastard Parliament IV: How to Get Away with Fraud

So, Regina vs Chaytor and Others (Appellants) began it's hearing at the UK Supreme Court today.

The aim of the three ex-Labour MPs who stand charged with false accounting - David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine - is to avoid standing trial in the Crown Court for these charges.

They contend that the Crown Court has no jurisdiction over them, as the alleged false accounting was incidental to their Parliamentary duties, and is therefore subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament.

I'm astonished that the mainstream media don't really seem to have caught hold of this. The Telegraph is running it, but I have seen no mention on the BBC. Given the importance of the case, you'd think they'd be all over it like a rash.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the ex-MPs, it will set a legal precendent whereby Parliamentarians have de facto immunity from prosecution if they commit crimes associated with their activities in Parliament. Not immunity from persecution, which is what Parliamentary privilege was originally set up for, but from prosecution.

Or, more specifically, the only body capable of bringing such a prosecution, and trying them to assess their guilt or innocence, is Parliament itself.

Does anybody spot the huge vested interest there? You know, the one that's 32 floors high, about 100 metres across, with a marble-fitted lobby, gold-plated elevators, bellboys, a jacuzzi in every room, and a massive flashing neon sign on the top saying 'WELCOME TO THE VESTED INTEREST?'

A Parliamentarian commits a crime in Parliament. Not necessary for the execution of his duties - he's simply on the make. And the only Court that can try him just happens to be populated by his colleagues. If you sit on a jury, and you know the accused, you have to inform the judge, and are, usually, replaced. How is that going to happen in Parliament, pray tell?

Judge, jury and executioner. Bastards.

I'm not suggesting that these men are guilty. I'm saying that it should be up to the Court to decide. The independent judiciary. Not a potentially biased legislature.

Orders of Magnitude

I was playing a little number game just now.

The UK national debt is now £1trillion, according to the ONS. But just how big is a trillion?

A trillion is a thousand billions. A billion is a thousand millions. And a million is a thousand thousands. So that's a 1 with 12 zeros on the end. A million millions.

£1,000,000,000,000.

A pound coin is 3.15mm thick, a mere 0.0000031km. So a tower of a million million pound coins would be 3.1million kilometres high. Or to put it another way, 8 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.


So, when people start moaning about the upcoming spending cuts, ask them how much of that they would like their children to pay.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Bastard Parliament III: Expenses Redux

Guido's coverage of the expenses debacle continues, with more MPs now facing police investigation. This story is just refusing to die. Former Tory peers Lords Taylor and Hanningfield, as well as sitting Labour MP Eric Illsley have also been charged with false accounting. Two more former MPs - Denis MacShane and Margaret Moran - are now being investigated by the police over their expenses claims. And another Tory MP, Bill Wiggin, has been told to pay back £4,000 and to apologise to the House of Commons over his claims by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. It's not yet clear whether he will face a police investigation.

And on Monday, something very interesting will happen - David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, former Labour MPs charged with false accounting relating to their Parliamentary expenses - will be heard at the UK Supreme Court. The Court will decide if the court system has jurisdiction over activities relating to Parliamentary activity - or, in other words, whether the law applies to Parliamentarians or not.

 Bastards. Absolute bastards.

If the Court rules in the appellants' favour, the ruling will effectively give de facto immunity from prosecution to Parliamentarians, placing them above the law by precedent. The only thing that could overturn that would be... you guessed it... an Act of Parliament. Would the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, once granted immunity by the courts, vote to give it back?

I hope the Law Lords see sense...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Bonfire of the Quangos

It's happening.

Burn, baby, burn!

In a review announced today, 168 quangos - (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations) will be abolished, converted to non-funded advisory committees or moved into the private sector. A further 69 will be merged, 171 will undergo 'substantial reform' and 40 are still 'under consideration'. 365 will be retained without change.

However, the Government has not been clear on the savings that these changes are expected to deliver, or on the number of expected job losses. They have instead focused on 'increasing democratic accountability'.

Hmmm.

Now, the cynic in me says that's because the savings are going to be marginal. Perhaps the Government should be directing its efforts at areas where more obvious savings can be made. Like the £100billion per year working-age benefits bill, for example.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Smoking Ban

David Nuttall MP has introduced the Public Houses and Private Members’ Clubs (Smoking) Bill to Parliament today, with the intention of securing a smoking ban exemption for pubs and clubs.

Many Libertarians support this measure, as they argue that smoking, while it is bad for your health, is a personal choice, and therefore it should not be up to the Government to tell us whether to smoke or not.

I disagree.

Smoking is a personal choice, but it does not just affect the person making the choice. It affects everyone around them while they are smoking, as they are forced to inhale their smoke. This is putting other people's health at risk, when they have made no choice to do so.

Libertarianism is about accepting responsibility for your own personal decisions, not foisting the consequences of those decisions on someone else.

For that reason, I support the smoking ban.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Dear Tesco...

 
Dear Tesco,

Thank you for your lovely brochure, depicting your plans to build a BEHEMOTH TESCO MONSTROSITY within 200 yards of my office.

I don't want it. I won't use it. You already have two other BEHEMOTH TESCO MONSTROSITIES within a 3-mile radius - you don't fucking need another one. There are also several BEHEMOTH ASDA, ALDI & LIDL MONSTROSITIES within 10 minutes' drive, so I think Long Eaton and the surrounding area are quite nicely served by supermarkets already. In fact, given that the Lidl is actually NEXT DOOR to your proposed site, as well as a Co-Op just across the road, I fail to see the community's urgent need for the aforementioned BEHEMOTH MONSTROSITY.

Although you will be using a derelict site for this, I fail to see how this will 'build a safer community'. It will build a GIANT SUPERSTORE on my fucking doorstep. I look forward to the canal towpath being strewn with Tesco carrier bags. NOTE THE SARCASM, DIPSHITS. I am also sure that the residents across the canal will absolutely LOVE to have your wonderful store visible from their bedroom windows. AGAIN, NOTE SARCASM. I also note that your superstore will provide direct access to the canal towpath. WONDERFUL. I also look forward to the STOLEN TROLLEYS in the canal. YOU FUCKING GENIUSES.

Finally, we come to the subject of market share. YOU'VE GOT ENOUGH. I admire your rise to prominence, and I feel happy for your shareholders, as I am sure they are happy with you. But I do believe in a free and competitive market, and part of that is ensuring that one company does not dominate. THREE FUCKING GIANT SUPERMARKETS in a 3-mile radius is rather a little too much, don't you think? Especially in an area without a hugely active local economy. The last thing we need is more profit-taking.

So kindly take this leaflet, and SHOVE IT UP YOUR DARK ONE.

Love and kisses,

James Dennis

Tuition Fees

So, it looks like tuition fees for university places are set to increase.

Of course, this was inevitable. The number have people attending university has risen sharply - figures from the ONS show that the number of enrolments at university has increased from 1.9million in 1997/1998 to nearly 2.4million in 2008/2009, which is an increase of over 26%.

So, the big debate is on how to fund all theses extra places. The Lib Dems have touted the idea of a 'Graduate Tax', which has been supported by Labour - basically taxing people at a higher rate once they've graduated, depending on their income. The Tories want to avoid additional taxation, and increase tuition fees instead.

Nobody has actually suggested a third alternative. Here's one.

Reduce the number of university places.

We have too many people going to university. Many of the subjects on offer do not require a degree course. Many of them, are quite frankly, completely fucking useless. I mean, seriously. What use is a degree in American Studies? Or Dance? Or Creative Expressive Therapies? Or Fashion Design? Or Football Studies?

After going up to 'F' on the UCAS website, I lost the will to carry on. I'm sure that there is a demand for the many subjects on offer, and I'm sure there are job prospects attached to them, but do they all really require a Degree course? Do the students really need to attend a university in order to gain that knowledge? Or could such knowledge be delivered via further education institutions such as sixth forms and colleges instead?

 Does everyone really need a degree?

So, I suggest a curb on university places, and on the types of course on offer, returning to an emphasis of 'on-the-job' training, apprenticeships and further education. This will significantly ease the funding burden. Payment for degree courses should be partially by tuition fees, and partially by State funding. And the level of State funding should be determined by the requirement for the qualified graduate in the labour market. The Government should offer financial incentives to run courses which are relevant and required in society, not those which are necessarily hugely popular with students. If you really feel the burning desire to study Football at university, that's fine - but don't expect the taxpayer to pay for it.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Blogosphere

Sad days, indeed.

Obnoxio the Clown has closed his blog, and the silence from Constantly Furious continues.

Fortunately, Ollie Cromwell is back from an extended holiday, and Archbishop Cranmer has started his sermons again.

Signs of life in the Blogosphere?

And there's always Old Holborn!

Again, I live in hope that my humble musings will be better regarded. But even if they're not, I fully intend to keep on rambling - it keeps my blood pressure lower, I'm sure.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Child Benefit Cut [UPDATED]

George Osborne has announced this morning that Child Benefit is to be abolished for higher rate taxpayers.

 

I personally think that this is excellent news. If someone is earning more than £44,000 per year, they're taking home roughly £2,700 a month. They certainly don't need to be claiming benefits from the State, paid for by people earning less than half their salary.

It will shave £1billion off the deficit. Definitely worth it, then.

[UPDATE]

Unbelievably, some fuckers are actually moaning about this!

OK, there are some problems with how it's being worked out. If you're a higher rate taxpayer, you carry on claiming it and then declare it on your tax return. It's then clawed back through your tax code. Which is cumbersome. And there's the issue that the non-entitlement kicks in when one or more of the parents is a higher rate taxpayer. So you could have a family where both parents earn £43,000, and they'd still be eligible for Child Benefit, and another family where only one parent earns £45,000, and they wouldn't be eligible.

So there are some winners and some losers.

I suggest a level playing field.

ABOLISH IT.

Get rid of it completely. Use the savings to increase tax credits, which is already means-tested.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Equality? What's That?

Today, the Equality Act 2010 takes effect, one of the last pieces of legislation seen through by the previous Government.

And you'll just love Section 11, Chapter 2. Which makes it a legal requirement to promote and recruit people with 'protected characteristics' ahead of those that don't. Even if they are less experienced.

And it does this under the guise of promoting equality, and criminalising discrimination.

Wonderful. It criminalises negative discrimination, but legitimises positive discrimination. It's not OK to tread on certain demographics, but it's perfectly OK to give them a leg up. Thus treading on people who don't belong to those demographics.

The cynical part of me wonders just what proportion of these demographics vote Labour.

Well done, Labour. Thanks a bunch.

You bastards.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Bleedin' Obvious

The BBC have an interesting report today.

And of course, by interesting, I mean completely fucking ridiculous.

The report says that the total worth of Equity ISAs - the Government's principal tax-free savings product - has outstripped the total worth of Cash ISAs.

Equity ISAs, for the uninitiated, invest in company shares, corporate bonds, gilts (Government debt - plenty of that around!), property and other things like that. Cash ISAs are effectively tax-free bank accounts.

Of course Equity ISAs are going to produce higher fund values than Cash ISAs. If you didn't get richer from investing, no one would bother, would they?

I find it vaguely astonishing that the BBC find such a fucking obvious finding to be newsworthy. Part of my TV licence paid for that.

Brought to you by the BBC. The bell-ends.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Religion and Logic

I was having a think the other day, as I often do.

Religion has been in the news a lot recently, what with the Pope's recent State visit and all. Personally, I found the whole thing quite entertaining - the primary reason being the attempts to stir up a hostile reception for a religious leader, only for him to be welcomed by the public reasonably well.

Pope Benedict's State Visit to Britain was the first for any Pope

One thing that has been brought to light by the Pope's visit is what he referred to as aggressive secularism - or militant atheism. They opposed the Pope's visit on the grounds that they do not agree with some things that the Catholic Church has done, and therefore it is bad.

Now, don't get me wrong - the Catholic Church is not a paragon of virtue. It has a bleak and troubled history, but that's because it's a human institution. The problem is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. I, personally, do not agree with their stance on contraception, homosexuality and equal rights. But do I oppose the Church's very existence because I disagree with them? No.

I find this emergent brand of militant atheism deeply disturbing - not because I am a particularly religious man, because I'm not. I find it disturbing because it is hypocritical - it accuses religion of brainwashing people into following an unwavering dogma, repressing freedom of thought and truth, and yet it does exactly the same.

They maintain that this brainwashing takes the form of convincing everyone that there is a single being responsible for the creation of the universe, and that it is somehow responsible for our actions and desires, guiding us through our lives in a great plan of infinite complexity which we cannot possibly understand. What a ridiculous notion, eh? Absolutely. Sky fairies and God delusions.

And I would absolutely agree with them... if they could prove it.

The absence of proof of the existence of God does not prove the non-existence of God. Atheism claims to be based on science. Science requires proof. Prove to me that there is no God.

If we cannot prove that there is no God, then atheism is simply the belief that there is no God. It is therefore a religion in it's own right, trying to secure it's own followers and destroy it's opponents, in the same way that Catholicism did in medieval times.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bastard Parliament II: Expenses

I blogged last week on the problem of our Bastard Parliament - the fact that it can act as judge, jury and executioner.

An interesting item in the Telegraph has led me to continue on this theme. The MPs charged with fraud relating to their expenses - Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine - are appealing to the newly-formed UK Supreme Court (used to be the Law Lords in the House of Lords) to decide whether or not the court system has jurisdiction over their activities in Parliament.

That's right. They are having a hearing - a full court hearing at the highest court in the land, to decide whether the law actually applies to them or not. They claim that the assertion in the Bill of Rights that 'proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament' means they are effectively outside the law.

This little feature of the Bill of Rights is commonly referred to as Parliamentary privilege, and was included in order to prevent the Monarch from accusing Parliamentarians of treason or sedition if they criticised his (or her) actions. The last Monarch who did that was King Charles I, and it precipitated the Civil War.

It was not included to allow Parliamentarians to diddle the public and get away with it scot-free.

If the Supreme Court rules in the MPs' favour, it will effectively set a legal precedent whereby our elected representatives are exempt from the law. This is, in a modern democracy, absolutely fucking despicable. The only body that would be able to try them is Parliament itself - spot the vested interest, anyone?

 Bastards. Absolute fucking bastards.

They might try another bit of legislation, which might not be familiar to them:

'It is Provided, agreed, and granted, that all Persons, as well of high as of low Estate, shall receive Justice in the King’s Court'.


Or, in other words: no man is above the law, and justice is dispensed in the Court of the King. No Parliament mentioned.

This piece of legislation is the Statute of Marlborough 1267. It was signed by King Henry III, 400 years before the Bill of Rights, and it is still in force. Check the link if you don't believe me.

Our Parliament is an absolute bastard.

Kids and the Media

Two thirds of parents think that their children watch inappropriate content on TV before the 9pm watershed, according to BBC article.

I certainly agree. A lot of TV is either mind-numbing garbage simply designed to appeal to the masses to give them the circus element of their bread and circuses, advertising designed to psychologically condition into parting with your cash in exchange for a load of shit that you don't really need, or packed full of sex and violence with no artistic context.

That's why my kids rarely watch it.

Garbage in High Definition (not the TV, just the crap that's put on it)


Seriously. Has it not occurred to people to control what their children watch? My kids, when they watch TV at all, watch films that I have bought on DVD (or blu-ray, as I am a techno-snob), that are pre-approved by me. And they are limited to one a day. The rest of the time, they play with toys, or out in the garden, or read books, or all the other things that children used to do before we retired in fear and loathing of the outside world to the dark confines of our living rooms.

If you don't like what your kids are watching on TV, turn it off.

Just a thought.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Bastard Parliament

It's been a fun day for Parliamentary nonsense today.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, managed to get an emergency debate held in the House of Commons relating to the phone-hacking allegations, claiming that any attempt to breach the private correspondence of MPs amounted to contempt of Parliament. The matter has been referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee, who are launching an inquiry.

This, in itself, sounds fairly run-of-the-mill, at least in Parliamentary terms. There was some colourful language about the media barons as having 'no predators', and employing 'red-topped assassins' to take out politicians. Chris Bryant even tore into Kay Burley on live TV, which was actually quite entertaining.


One thing Old Holborn pointed out, though - Parliament does have teeth to defend itself in this regard. Contempt of Parliament is a crime, and the court to which you are presented to face charges is Parliament itself, which has the power to imprison you. Indefinitely.

The reason for this? Well, Parliament once sat as a court to execute a King. 500 years ago.

So, let this be a lesson to you. Don't get in the way of Parliament. That little brown building on the banks of the Thames can act as a court, creates the law and forms the Government.

In other words, it is judge, jury and executioner.  And if you piss them off, they can fuck you up.

What a bastard.

Office of Budget Responsibility Gets New Chief

The BBC have reported that George Osborne has appointed Robert Chote, former head of the IFS, as the new chief of the Office of Budget Responsibility.

I can't really complain about this appointment - although the IFS has touted itself as an 'independent' organisation, I have found its analyses to be decidedly left-leaning, especially with its recent criticism of the Emergency Budget as being 'regressive', whatever that means. If 'progressive' means 'socialist', as it seems to be used, then personally I'm quite happy for the Government's policies to be 'regressive'.

Osborne is the first Chancellor to submit to official independent scrutiny

Osborne's decision to appoint the former head of an, at best independent, at worst left-leaning, to scrutinise his own fiscal policy decisions certainly backs his statements about the OBR being there to independently review the work of the Treasury, rather than simply rubber-stamp it. This truly does end the Treasury's centuries-old vested interest in its ability to massage the figures for political ends.

All in all, a brave move.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

America's Problem with Islam

America seems to have an increasingly disturbing problem with Islam.

Latest polls indicate that approximately 1 in 5 Americans mistakenly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. The idea that it was agents of Islam that caused the attack on the World Trade Center has led to an argument about the decision to build a mosque close to the site.

And now, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Evangelical Christians in Florida are planning to burn copies of the Koran in protest.

Now, I am not lining up to defend the 9/11 attacks - they were cowardly, heinous and despicable, and I understand how passionate Americans are about it - the UK has been the subject of terrorist attacks many times in my lifetime. But just because those that caused the attacks describe themselves as Muslims doesn't mean that Islam itself is inherently evil.

There is no justification for this

The Christian Crusaders used their religion as an excuse to wage war on the Holy Land. Genocide was committed during the Crusades, as hundreds of thousands were murdered in the name of God. But we do not regard Christianity as evil because of this. We recognise these events in context - that they weren't about religion at all, but power, authority and wealth.

These events need to be taken in context. Our enemy is a small, fanatical group of fundamentalists, who are using a warped interpretation of their religion as an excuse to justify murder and terrorism. Their actions aren't about religion - they're about power, authority and ultimately, wealth. They are the Crusaders of modern times.

The argument of these fundamentalists is that Western society despises Islam, and is out to destroy it, and that only by destroying the free world will they be safe. Rash actions like burning the Koran only reinforce that assertion.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Why GCSEs are Meaningless

It has been reported today that record numbers of students have passed and achieved A* grades in their GCSEs, much to the delight of the students and their parents. However, there is a slight problem with this. The value of something - anything - is determined by supply and demand. If something is easy to obtain, i.e. the supply is high, then it is likely to be cheap.

So, if 98.7% of students leaving school have GCSEs, how much are they worth?

This question is worth one mark.

Here's the answer... Nada. Niente. Nil. Nothing.


The whole point of GCSEs, indeed any formal educational qualification, is to provide an indication of the student's aptitude towards a particular subject, and on the whole, their overall intelligence.

If you compare this to another test for measuring intelligence, say an IQ test, you will notice some frightening disparities. IQ generally follows a normal distribution pattern, as illustrated below.

Normal Distribution

Most people have around average IQ, some people have above average, some below average and a few select few have exceptionally high or exceptionally low IQs. So, you would expect any qualification system that purports to measure intelligence to be reflective of this distribution. In such a distribution, the mean value - calculated by adding up all the discrete values and then dividing by the number of values - equals the median value - calculated by finding the midway point between the highest and lowest value. And it also equals the modal value - the most commonly occurring value. If this was mapped onto the GCSE grading levels, the middle grade is a C, so most students should actually get Cs, with only a very small percentage getting an A*.

Is this reflected in the GCSE system? Quite simply, no. This year, 69.1% of the grades issued were C or above. 22.6% of grades were either A or A*, and only 1.3% actually failed to register a grade at all. On a normal distribution, the number of fails should be equivalent to the number of As and A*s. They're nowhere near.

So this leaves two possibilities:
  • The student intelligence pattern does not conform to a normal distribution - highly unlikely, given that most measurable criteria conform to a normal distribution given a wide enough sample range;
  • The GCSE system is fixed to produce better results, i.e. the examinations are made easy in order to boost pass rates, thus making our (effectively nationalised) education system look good.

Therefore, as truckloads of students leave school with GCSEs, and they do not accurately measure aptitude or intelligence, they are worthless.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Clegg's Confusion on Trident

The Telegraph has reported that Nick Clegg seems to think that incurring the expenditure of renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent makes it harder to justify cuts to the benefits system.

Why?

The job of a State, it's only reason for existence, is to provide security for our society, and to uphold the rule of law. That's it. That's all it has to do. Everything else is an optional extra. Politics is the discussion of what extras we build in.

In a multi-polar world, where the supremacy of the Western powers is waning,  newly-emergent or resurgent nations like Brazil, Russia, India and China look set to take a greater lead, and nuclear proliferation continues (examples include North Korea and Iran), the preservation of our nuclear deterrent is absolutely paramount to the security of our nation.

The benefits system is there to help the most vulnerable in our society, but it is not essential society's survival. Therefore, however laudable it's aims may be, it is an optional extra.


Preventing this is not optional.

Bang.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Labour's Hypocrisy on Electoral Reform

One of the key points of the coalition pact was the Conservative agreement to hold a referendum on adopting the AV voting system, for both parties to push forward equalisation of constituency sizes, and to reduce the overall number of constituencies from 650 to 600.

Labour have, accordingly, announced their opposition to these plans, arguing that a review of the boundaries is effectively gerrymandering, and an attempt to 'fix' the electoral system to prevent a Labour majority in the future.

A couple of points:

  • Labour were the only major political party to have a commitment to the AV voting system in their election manifesto. Why have they suddenly turned their backs on it?
  • Equalising constituency sizes is not gerrymandering - it is restoring balance to the electoral system. Even by Labour's own admission, 'the electoral system is... biased in favour of Labour'
  • Reducing the number of constituencies would again bring better balance to the electoral system, and reduce the cost of politics. Why is that gerrymandering?
And the Boundary Commission for England note in their 2009/2010 Annual Report their disappointment at the previous Government's refusal to review electoral law, despite the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommending it for review!

That thing that we all take for granted

It is not the coalition that are gerrymandering. Labour have been doing so for the past 13 years, allowing important legislation to become outdated, and population drift to take it's toll on constituency boundaries, simply because they benefited from the changes. And their hypocrisy now, accusing the coalition of fiddling while they themselves have been doing it for the past 13 years, is difficult to stomach.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Minimum Pricing on Alcohol

The BBC reports today that dear old Dave is very sympathetic towards councils who want to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol at a local level.

The aim of minimum pricing is to discourage binge drinking, the theory being that if the people going out on a binge can't buy alcohol cheap enough, they'll stay sober.

There's just one problem with this plan - it's complete and utter bollocks.

 A good night out?

Binge drinking is a form of alcoholism. It is a deliberate form of substance misuse with the sole intention of getting 'high', or in this case, drunk. Therefore, the nature of it is addictive. Many people who engage in it will not have the inclination or the willpower to change their behaviour. And thus, with the motivational factor behind the purchase being the desire to get drunk, they will buy the alcohol regardless of how much it costs.

Minimum pricing on alcohol will do virtually nothing to prevent binge drinking, but it will punish the vast majority of drinkers who exercise control and responsibility. The solution is not to punish the responsible majority, but to break down the culture of binge drinking.

A few possible suggestions:
  • Change licensing laws to require licensees to refuse to serve people who are visibly intoxicated, and encourage others working in other services, e.g. taxis, takeaways etc. to do the same. Once people realise that getting hammered actually stops them from having a good time, they'll pack it in;
  • If someone turns up at a hospital requiring medical treatment arising from their own alcohol abuse, e.g. a stomach pump, bill them. They're wasting valuable resources that could be used elsewhere, and will act as a disincentive because they'll be having to hand over money without any tangible benefit;
  • Allow police reporting on which venues are more likely to produce binge drinking behaviour. These should be closely regulated to discourage marketing strategies which encourage binge drinking, such as 2-for-1 offers on alcopops, happy hours and selling shots at seats just before closing time.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Targeting Benefit Fraud

Dave announced today that the Government is teaming up with credit reference agencies to trawl through bills and credit card statements to help identify benefit thieves.

Good old Guido Fawkes has pointed out the inherent civil liberties violation here. Dave has tried to defend these accusations by saying that 'private companies use all sorts of different means to make sure they are not defrauded, why should the State be any different?'

Well, here's a good reason, Mr Prime Minister, sir: because the State is not in the business of turning a good profit, but rather protecting our society at minimum cost to its citizens.

Targeting benefit fraud is an admirable goal. But starting out from the assumption that the millions of people using the benefits system are screwing the system and should therefore be investigated until their innocence is proven is disgustingly authoritarian - exactly the sort of thing I expected from the last government.

 He's still watching

If Dave truly wants to cut the cost of the benefits bill, I have a few humble suggestions:
  • Limit benefits entitlement to British citizens. This will have the double effect of limiting immigration, as people will no longer migrate across Europe in order to abuse our system;
  • Capping all benefits claims at 80% of the net minimum wage. No one, under any circumstances, should be receiving more money for being out of work than those who are in work;
  • Abolish tax credits entirely, because they're a waste of fucking time. Use the proceeds to increase the income tax allowance, ensuring that everyone who should benefit, does benefit;
  • Replace the remaining benefits system with a simpler one based on holistic needs, not on the desire to reward certain demographics in exchange for votes. See my previous post on this.

Will any of my above suggestions help to cut fraud? Possibly not. But given that fraud accounts for £1.5billion of the total £197billion annual benefits bill, I think we've got bigger fish to fry.

How to Rob a Pension

One of the measures announced in the recent Budget is the subtle change from uprating pensions and benefits by the Retail Prices Index (RPI) to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). Both are measures of inflation, but the CPI is the one used by the Bank of England when setting interest rates, in line with EU practice to allow like-for-like comparisons across EU states. The Government have therefore argued that it is more appropriate to use this measure rather than the older RPI.

But crucially, the CPI is often lower than the RPI, making it cheaper to use.

The Government's proposals involve:

  • Linking increases in working age benefits to the CPI in the future, which will effectively mean that benefits will increase at a slower rate over the longer term, limiting the rate at which the benefits bill increases;
  • Replacing RPI as the measure for inflation for State pensions, although with the introduction of the 'triple-lock', meaning that State pensions will increase by the higher CPI, National Average Earnings Index (NAEI) or 2.5% (subject to a maximum of 5%) means that the effect on State pensions will be minimal;
  • Most importantly, final salary pension schemes - including schemes in the private sector - uprate benefits in line with RPI each year subject to a 5% cap as a statutory minimum. This would be changed to CPI, affecting not just members of pension schemes, but pensioners in receipt of income as well.

This is the key one. The last point won't just affect pensions in the public sector, but those in the private sector as well. It effectively means that final salary pension schemes will only need to uprate deferred benefits - belonging to non-contributing members of the scheme -  by the lower of CPI or 5% each year, and that existing pensioners - people already receiving their pension - would have that income increased at a lower rate in the future.

Previously, changes to the method of pension uprating have preserved the uprating for previously accrued benefits. The Government is proposing a retrospective change, so that all deferred benefits will accrue at the same rate, i.e. the lower of CPI or 5%.

This will have several effects:
  • It will make the Government's bill for supporting the various public sector pension schemes, such as the Teachers Pension Scheme, the Local Government Pension Scheme, the Civil Service Pension Scheme and dozens of others, considerably cheaper going forward;
  • It will make far more private sector schemes more sustainable, as their long term commitments will be more manageable - their future liabilities will be lower, and therefore the scheme's assets will be under less pressure to produce higher investment performance;
  • Ultimately, the people who will suffer will be the pension scheme members - their entitlement will be accruing at a lower rate, and therefore their income in retirement will be lower. But uniquely, it would also be existing pensioners who would suffer - their actual income would increase at a lower rate.
 
Of course, private sector funds may still choose to make provision beyond the statutory minimum, but it is unlikely. I work in the financial services industry, and have only come across one pension scheme which makes provision above and beyond the statutory minimum.

Hand it over, Grandma

This is a tiny change, but one that will have massive repercussions if borne out in full. It will not just affect people's future pension entitlement, but their existing entitlement as well, including those who have already retired. The principal of changing the uprating method for future accruals is a relatively sound one, but the application of retrospective legislation to existing provision is, quite frankly, despicable.

It has echoes of Gordon Brown's decision to remove the tax credit for share dividends on pension funds, effectively allowing pension funds to fall into the Corporation Tax net. A small change that very few people really understood, but which had huge consequences for millions of ordinary people.

From the coalition, I expected better.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Money - the Ultimate Narcotic

It occurred to me the other day that people wouldn't suffer from as many financial troubles if they actually regarded money as a narcotic.

Consider the parallels:

  • It is a substance of which there is a finite supply, which is tightly regulated by an all-powerful cartel of the Treasury and the Bank of England to maintain it's value;
  • We are all dependent on it - we need it to feed, house, clothe and warm us. None of us can realistically be without it. It's withdrawal would result in unpleasant, sometimes life-threatening side-effects;
  • The abuse of it can have devastating consequences - consider the effects of gambling, as well as debt abuse, e.g. overspending on credit cards.

Now, I'm not advocating abandoning currency and reverting to bartering for beans and goats. The advantages of using currency far outweigh the disadvantages. For me, the advantages of drinking whisky far outweigh the disadvantages, so I'm not going to give it up. But that doesn't mean that I won't treat it with the respect it deserves. I won't drink more than 3 whiskies in one sitting, otherwise I end up slumped in a corner snoring, or worse, standing on a table singing 'Delilah' at the top of my lungs. And either way, waking up in the morning feeling like a whole family of chavs is squatting in my skull.

Likewise, I treat money with the same sense of caution. I only buy something if I can pay for it immediately. The only exception to this is where I'm buying something which is likely to go up in value, where it is acceptable to borrow money, provided that the repayments are affordable. I save money wherever I can - to pay for the things I really enjoy, like holidays in the Lake District, and days out with my kids.

Nowhere else does this analogy seem more clear than in the benefits system. Whole swathes of people, effectively hooked on the narcotic of money, and their dealer is the State itself. They are unable or unwilling to break this addiction, as most addicts are. And the side-effects of their addiction are plain to see - anti-social behaviour and misuse of the substance they are peddled. Of course, not all people receiving benefits have these problems, but you see my point.


The Newest Way of Administering Benefits


The problem with the benefits system is that it pays money to people, not to help them out of poverty, but to keep them in it. I see two possible reasons for this:
  • Sentimentality - the last government, out of a genuine desire to help 'the poor', but in a Marie Antoinette way, misunderstanding the causes of poverty, simply threw money at the problem and hoped it would go away. They made an emotional, rather than a rational decision;
  • Vote Creation - the last government set about to create swathes of Labour voters, to make it as difficult as possible for the Tories to get back into office. What better way than creating massive sections of the population dependent on the State, who would be unlikely to vote Tory?

This could form an interesting debate in itself, but is largely irrelevant.

Of course, in the face of the proposed consolidation, simplification and reduction in State benefits, many of the recipients are complaining about how they will survive without them, and many on the Left are protesting against the cold-heartedness of the coalition in even contemplating such moves.

I suspect their attitudes would be different if the State was handing out heroin.

Just a thought.