Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Who OK’d The Green Arrest?

Damian Green, Shadow Immigration Secretary, was arrested last night in connection with a leak enquiry. It would be easy to point out the Mugabe-esque nature of arresting opposition politicians for being awkward to the government. Nor that it is not out of character for Labour who, after all, created the national security legislation that was abused in order to silence critics at their party conference.

An interesting question, though, is surely such an arrest must have required clearance from the highest level in the Met? One Sir Ian Blair, who coincidentally has had his own run in with a senior Conservative recently and is now leaving, grumbling, and under a cloud?


We Are Saved. Not.

So, thanks goodness for Alistair Darling. A few tax breaks of dubious effectiveness which we will be paying for, with interest in a couple of years’ time. He has seen fit to lend our own money to us for a couple of years. That’ll help. Not.

And increasing the employers’ national insurance contributions just as (if we’re optimistic) unemployment starts to fall – very sensible. Not.

Increasing fuel duties to offset the VAT reduction, which I’m sure he plans to reverse itself when the VAT rate goes back up. Not.

Increasing fuel duties, in fact, so that the costs built into zero-rated VAT food increase, helping those struggling with household bills. Not.

He’s allowing loss relief to be carried back three years which, for companies, just partially reverses a negative change made by Labour not so long ago. The tax rise for small companies is being deferred, not scrapped, note.

Back to 3/23rds?

The risk of this blog becoming a weekly affair is, I suspect, receding with the pre-budget report being delivered tomorrow.

Someone at the Treasury is clearly briefing the media and trailing a VAT cut from 17.5% to 15% – reversing a rise originally put in place to pay for the abolition of the poll tax and introduction of the Council Tax.

Frankly I would have thought making permanent this year’s rise in the personal allowance would be cheaper and just as effective in economic terms – more so, probably, as a VAT cut will undoubtedly be “shared” between suppliers and customers. However, an increase in personal allowances is not as effective a headline grabber, which is what this is all really about. Labour clearly want to goad the Conservatives into not supporting a tax cut, but in doing so they have failed to understand what Conservatives are all about when it comes to tax. We would cut tax by making government smaller – tax is, after all, the most visible measure of the size of government. Anything else is unsustainable. Unfunded tax cuts are no tax cuts.

One other idea being floated in the last few days is a Council Tax freeze. This is unworkable as the increase in government funding necessary would be too complex, as the rises necessary would be different for every single council. More likely, if we are talking a freeze, would be to use the capping powers to force a 0% increase – or, to be more precise, forcing councils to carry out rushed and thus damaging cuts in services – and those councils, mainly now Conservative, would know exactly who to blame.

BTW, the reference to 3/23rds is one that accountants of a certain vintage will instantly recognise: 3/23 is the fraction of VAT in a price that includes 15% VAT (i.e. £100 plus 15% VAT equals £115 … £115 x 3/23 equals £15 VAT). With 17.5% VAT the current fraction is 7/47.

Your Body or the State’s?

The innocuous sounding “Presumed Consent” has been given a thumbs down by the “UK Organ Donation Taskforce”. Gordon Brown, though, ever the authoritarian statist, is threatening to change the law anyway if the publicity campaign doesn’t produce the right result.

Quite how he expects to do this from the opposition back-bench, or House of Lords is left unanswered, as the assessment of the success of the campaign won’t be until at least 2010 and may be after 2013.

What it does mean is that my party will have to prove that we really are on the side of individual freedom and make clear, as with ID cards, that a Conservative government will scrap any plans for presumed consent.

Ha Blooming Ha

I saw a great comedy show this morning. It was a one-man stand-up routine, and the deadpan delivery would put Jack Dee to shame.

Here are a couple of the one-liners, delivered with a totally straight face but which had me in stitches:

  • People have an extra £120 this year as a result of a tax cut (the clever bit here is that the audience knows it was just mitigating a tax rise – clever, eh?)
  • The UK has less public debt than its G7 neighbours (of course, the joke is that it’s only because the government has swept so much debt off the balance sheet)
  • The banks should be more responsible, and not indulge in so much off balance sheet financing (hypocrisy can be funny, see?)

OK, so I guess you had to be there, and it’s never as funny when you explain the joke is it?

The name of the show was something like “Prime Ministers Monthly Press Conference” or something.

Mortgage Rates for Dummies (or BBC Business Editors)

Why have quite a few mortgage lenders not been passing on the bank base rate cuts in full in recent times? Because the inter-bank market has been frozen up. Normally, base rate cuts filter down to mortgage borrowers fairly quickly because the rate at which banks lend to each other – the LIBOR rate – follows the BoE decision. Recently, of course, LIBOR has ignored the BoE and remained stubbornly high.

Today, however, LIBOR has started to move in response to the shock decision yesterday to cut the base rate by 1.5%. (Note – remember, the Bank of England is independent, so it had absolutely completely and utterly nothing to do with any by-elections.)

WIth LIBOR moving, the lenders have started to drop their rates.

As an aside, the government had huffed and puffed from within minutes of the BoE decision about expecting to see the cut passed on.

So, the BBC reports today that

The Libor rate at which banks lend to each other has also fallen since the cut.

In response the Nationwide is cutting its base mortgage rate by 1.5%, from 6.19% to 4.69%, while RBS/NatWest is cutting its standard variable rate (SVR) by the same amount, from from 6.69% to 5.19%

… except that the excerpt above is not exactly at the top of the piece. What is, is the headline and opening paragraph:

Lenders heed calls for rate cuts
The main mortgage lenders have started to respond to the government’s demand that they should cut their mortgage lending rates.

Of course, the BBC is impartial, blah blah blah. So it must be just an accident that the spin given to the piece sounds like one of those old Lib Dem FOCUS leaflets which claimed that your local road was being resurfaced “following action by your local FOCUS team”, when the “action” was just to get the previous leaflet out just before the scheduled works were undertaken. Chronologically it is correct, but that hardly equates to clear cause-and-effect.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, I think is the relevant term. Do media studies student know any latin these days?

Glenrothes By-election

So Brown is back as a colossus standing over the British political landscape. Apparently.

Well, I simply cannot bring myself to comment too much on the result of Brown’s bunch of Trots defeating Salmond’s bunch of Trots, other than to note that the Conservatives overtook the Lib Dems into third place (way-hey). Oh, and to note that there was a respectable swing to the SNP, so perhaps the BBC might want to balance its coverage a bit.


Sorry, I just re-read the last sentence above. BBC … balance … coverage.

Well, it made me laugh.

Obamamania Reaches Its Climax

Historic, blah blah blah, hope, blah blah.

Now for the uninformed punditry. As I don’t claim to be an expert on US politics, I will be using the analogy method to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Will Obama be a new Kennedy? Notwithstanding the truncated term in office, JFK was not an outstanding president, other than the fortuitous playing out of the Cuban Missile Crisis and deft handling of the ensuing public relations.

Maybe a Carter – unimpressive once in office and need we mention the Iranian hostage debacle?

Or Maybe a Clinton – all the talk of hope does give one a sense of déjà-vu, but the real failings of Clinton’s administration only became evident after he left office, in his failure to deal with Al-Qaeda. To be fair, though, Clinton was probably more fiscally conservative than his successor in the Oval Office.

Or perhaps Americans have just elected their own Tony Blair. If so, the U.S. can look forward to two terms of gradual deflation in their hopes and dreams, matched with equally gradual erosion of freedom and increasing tax burdens.

The difference is, and this will be the interesting bit, that Blair had the benefit of a buoyant domestic and global economy, so was never truly tested. How will Obama fare? It may be that the Bush administration has endured the worst of the pain and the Obama years will encompass the natural swing back to prosperity as the world moves out of recession, but will Obama’s antipathy towards free trade and natural tendency towards higher tax throttle the recovery?

I will now finish sounding like a true pundit (i.e. who frankly hasn’t got a clue how things will turn out) …

Interesting times lie ahead.

Borissed Off

Give them credit, at least the Kentish Times are consistent. Consistently anti-Boris … though I appreciate that they are not under the same requirement for impartiality that the likes of the BBC pretend to abide by.

Next week Boris is visiting Bromley (in ‘Metropolitan Kent’) for his first People’s Question Time. The Bromley Times has been wound up by Bromley’s Labour Leader John Getgood and have found a few random comments on the BorisWatch site – itself hardly a Boris fan-zine. Apparently the blond one is only coming to Bromley for an easy ride….

Mr Johnson received the majority of the mayoral votes in Bromley and the evening will be chaired by Conservative London Assembly Member for Bromley and Bexley, James Cleverly.

Well, James is chairing it because it’s in his constituency – that’s the convention – and Boris also received the majority of Mayoral votes in most of the London boroughs. That’s why he won. Get over it.

Maybe Cllr Getgood and the Bromley Times think Boris should ignore the largest London borough? Fair enough, they got used to being ignored by the last Mayor, but if he has to restrict himself to the boroughs that came out for Ken then it’ll be a short tour.