Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: March 2008

Who’da Thunk It?

From the respected Jane’s last week (hat tip Samizdata):

Evidence emerges of Iran’s continued nuclear weapons research Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuing its pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclear weapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connected to a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by a number of reliable independent sources in Vienna.

Presumably with all the earth-shattering events of the last few days(?), the BBC is still to run this story, in contrast to the fanfare of a few months ago when intelligence services told us that Iran was a paradise of love, peace and freedom where the nuclear research was aimed only at keeping the air conditioning on in the fluffy bunnies’ cages.

(And of course these weren’t the same intelligence services that got it so wrong about another alleged clutch of weapons of mass destruction.)
As Samizdata’s Dale Amon neatly sums it up … who’da thunk it?

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In this, the week of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq business, there has been much reflection and the usual breast-beating about how we got where we are.

I’ll be honest, I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, and it would take a nutter like Galloway to argue that the world is not a better place with one less murderous dictator in it. However, one could hardly say that the region or Iraq itself is a better place in many other ways. There is general agreement on all sides that the post invasion situation has been something of a mess-up, yet is there light at the end of the tunnel? The latest polls would tend to indicate so. The statistics on fatalities would also bear out the impression that things are improving (could they have got any worse?)

Even so, it would be easy to underestimate the amount of work still to do … work which our boys and girls in the military won’t be there to carry out. The onus will fall on the domestic security forces, such as the Iraqi police and armed forces.

And there is the problem, if someone I met a few days ago is correct. Mr X wanted some advice on his residency status for UK tax. He is on the sharp end: ex-forces, he now works as a – ahem – security contractor in Iraq. Are things getting better now? No. In some ways they are getting worse, in that Saddam’s old lot are creeping back in charge again. The Iraqi police are under the increasing influence of the Ba’ath party. Many of the abductions nowadays are carried out by the police. Private security teams would rather charge straight through a police checkpoint and have a shooting match than risk abduction of either themselves or their clients.

So how come the polls are so positive? The bombings are subsiding, and Iraqis can get their household supplies in what is a semblance of normality. I suppose, the perception of freedom is a relative one. Citizens of the old Soviet Union probably enjoyed a fair amount of security, and thus freedom from everyday crime, but their “freedom” was a façade which could be shattered if they upset the wrong people, or their neighbours, or said something the wrong way. To take a more relevant example (at least in the sense of the sectarian nature of much of the violence now), even Northern Ireland at any of the peaks of the Troubles was probably significantly “better” than life in Iraq a couple of years back.

I don’t know the answer. We can hardly start pouring troops back in. It is ironic that the anti-war sentiment, backed very effectively by the media classes, has resulted in a withdrawal that may prove premature. Then again, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we should have concentrated on stabilising Afghanistan first (which started out as a quite different, and more widely supported, conflict).

If we were resigned to another fundamentalist regime taking charge, then we could work to ensure that they are “our sons of bitches” – though haven’t we been there before in Iraq? Either way, it is probably easier for states to deal with another state than dispersed but well-resourced irregular militia. I guess we’ve missed our chance with partition … ‘cos that’s always worked well before(!) We could have hived off the more stable part (the Kurdish north) – except Turkey might have something to say, and worst case scenario would be another 1948 – with a new homeland state set upon by nervous neighbours. In any case, this wouldn’t have stopped the Shia/Sunni violence.

So it looks like we could be back to square one before long, via some bloody and long ladders and snakes – or should that be the other way round?

Meanwhile, I suspect Mr X is looking to pay off his mortgage, though ideally without using the life insurance route. Stay safe, X.

Thanks a lot

Full marks in the diplomacy/tongue-biting stakes to West Yorkshire’s finest as they face accusations that they didn’t find Shannon Matthews quickly enough. This, despite mounting the biggest manhunt in the county since the Yorkshire Ripper, and finding the lost girl when many were fearing the worst, against a background of “oh nobody cares about her as much as Madeline McCann is it ‘cos we is working class”.

The statement from the police was loosely coded, talking of “literally hundreds of people in a huge family network” in defending the length of time it took to check out even the “usual suspects” in such a case.

That some of the locals in Dewsbury (it was one of Shannon’s “huge family network” that made the first criticism that received coverage) thought it strange that such a task should take so long says something of the normality that too many children find themselves in. A procession of “uncles” – real and generic – as well as enough “steps” to start a ladder hire shop.

It was, in a roundabout and unintentionally timed way, the sort of thing that David Cameron was talking about yesterday in his keynote speech in Gateshead. Despite the derision that greeted Iain Duncan Smith’s report last year on social and family breakdown, nothing can alter the fact that a stable family background is the best defence we have against a whole raft of social problems. That is not to condemn divorcees, for instance – these things happen, sadly – but to strive to an ideal. To put the onus back on the community – even in its widest sense, including big business and those who drive our culture – is a significant shift away from the expectation that government can save us all – a flawed belief that has created many of the problems.

Oh Yeah, The Budget

Dull was it? Well what did I tell you.So what was buried away in the press releases?

  • Big hike in National Insurance (boo!)
    • The upper limit for Class 4 NI (which the self employed pay) has jumped by £5,200 – that is, £5,200 being taxed at 8% instead of 1% (£364 since you ask). (Update – ah yes, the Class 1 (employees’) threshold has increased also – and that’s a £520 per year tax increase.)
  • Attacks on independent taxation of married couples postponed for a year (meh)
    • Darling has postponed until April 2009 measures which aim to stop the disgraceful behaviour of a spouse sharing their income with their other half. Apparently this practice is “unfair” according to the government. Frankly, I wouldn’t dare trying that argument with my better half.

And a load of stuff we already new about, but the media needed to fill airtime and space, so we had (again) the corporation tax rate cut to 28% (though not so much mention of the small companies rate going up to 21%), the Capital Gain Tax changes … oh, and the public finances are screwed.

Budget Day Ain’t What It Used To Be

When I was starting out in my chosen profession, budget day was something special in the office. The one day that radios were allowed to be on, and a late afternoon of comradely toil in the basement with risograph and staple machine, putting together the special same-day budget briefings that the tax department had cobbled together during the speech.

Nowadays, half of it has been announced in advance either in previous budgets or the pre-budget speech (e.g. the tax-cut-that-isn’t-quite* as unveiled by Brown last March .. or the Inheritance Tax relief-that-isn’t-really** from Darling last November). Oh, and then there’s the sort-of-u-turns that happen in between.***

The other half – the nasty stuff – won’t come out for another couple of months when the Finance Bill wends its way through the committee stages, long after the financial hacks have moved on from making pretty “what it means for the average family with 2.4 smoking children and 4×4-driving dog” graphics.

So I’m not particularly bothered that this Wednesday I’ll be sitting on the panel interviewing the long list for a director position in my Council, rather than hanging on Darling’s every vacuous word. Nor that I’ll not be availing myself of the 7:30 am “Budget Breakfast” briefings the following morning.

Actually, the latter is nothing to do with the modern budget event, rather that breakfast meetings are, to me, just … wrong. Not unless they are being held in my front room and you don’t mind me attending, Arthur Dent style, in my dressing gown.

* He cut the basic rate to 20% … and doubled the (former) starting rate to 20%. Not much good if you’re on £18,000 or less.

** He allowed couples to share their IHT thresholds (which they could do already with the right paperwork), and still couldn’t match Osborne’s £1m proposal.

*** The “Entrepreneurs’ Relief” that is coming in alongside the 18% Capital Gains Tax rate, but which has the customary ball of strings attached.

Mrs T is still alive

From the BBC reporter outside Baroness Thatcher’s hospital:

“Is it serious? Well, you have to face facts – she arrived by car, not in an ambulance.”

Yes, that is verbatim.

A note of disappointment there from the BBC perhaps?