Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Minimum Alcohol Pricing – Today’s Headline-Chasing Silver Bullet

This morning I thought of a superb policy idea. Something that will eliminate speeding and deaths on the road. It will save the NHS billions and mean that the police can stop ‘doing traffic’ and go out and chase ‘real criminals’ … and it’s stunningly simple:

Introduce a minimum price for petrol and diesel.

I mean, the stuff’s so cheap at the moment, I really don’t know why anyone hasn’t thought of it before. Perhaps, if that’s too radical, they could slap a load of tax on fuel – that would probably work as well….

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Tax Avoidance Creates Jobs And Boosts The Economy – Livingstone

Yes, that’s today’s excuse from Red Ken about why he avoided £50,000 of tax/National Insurance by channelling his earnings through a limited company rather than as an employee of is various ‘engagers’, or as a Schedule D* self-employed taxpayer.


OK, so it might not have been as much as £50,000 – it may have been more – but this figure was not calculated by a Ken-bashing swivel eyed right winger like me. It was Richard Murphy; he who, if you asked him if tax avoidance was worse than paedophilia, would have to pause and think about his answer.

Anyway, speaking on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show this morning, Ken said that the £50,000 saved enabled him to give jobs to two people. Clearly Ken isn’t an accountant or economist, but it seems he implicitly recognises the phenomenon of tax incidence and the extent to which much business taxation ends up being borne by the employees – his reasoning for his tax avoidance pretty well says as much. So, his tax avoidance helped create jobs. He could have added the observation that this was an example of him choosing how to spend that £50,000 rather then the government doing so, but let’s take that as read.

His response also acknowledges that fact that tax removes money from the economy. Again, this is a significant departure from the conventional nonsensical leftist line that reducing public expenditure (and thus, by definition, reducing taxation now or in the future) is ‘taking money out of the economy’. Not that Livingstone would see it this way, but when you’re still digging in as deep a hole as he is, I’m surprised he can see anything.

* Showing my age now. Heck, I still find myself talking about SC60’s** sometimes.

** My fellow accountants will understand.

Cameron Loses the Hilton Rudder

Steve Hilton, Downing Street’s policy ‘guru’ has left, fed up with the Whitehall machine and Europe to spend more time with his family.

The direction that Steve Hilton took the Conservative Party in was not to everyone’s taste, but at least he gave it one. Despite the capitulation to watermelon greenery, detoxification in principle was necessary, and Hilton’s euro-scepticism was credited, in part, as being a factor in Cameron’s quasi-veto back in December.

A couple of weeks ago, a conference of Conservative MPs heard from Andrew Cooper, the former pollster who is now at the heart of Number 10. His increasingly influential position is in contrast to Hilton’s; while all governments should have regard to public feeling, an increasingly prominent feature of the government in recent months has been an apparent heightened sensitivity to the headlines. Whether it’s the over-reaction to the Council prayer’s decision (which only served to open new divisions in the party) or the woolly response to the Heston bonus story, the pollsters influence on government business has been trumping whatever coherent policy direction that existed before – and that direction was pretty weak, diluted as it inevitably was y the politics of coalition and Cameron’s own antipathy to “-isms”.

Alas, with Hilton now taking his ball home with him the party’s rudder, erratic though it could seem sometimes, has finally disappeared. A government reacting to headlines and polls seems to have more in common with the last years of John Major’s. One could suggest New Labour as another comparator, but at least they had some grip on the media, rather than the other way around.

There is one consolation with this situation though – before now, Cameron’s government has been haunted not by the ghost of Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, but by Ted Heath’s – and that has nothing to do with Europe, rather the numbers of u-turns and compromises that destroy any confidence in the ability to govern.

Cameron is unlikely to be asking the electorate the question, without knowing the answer, ‘who governs Britain’. He’ll know the answer from the polls, we’ll know the answer is the polls.

So Farewell The #OccupyLSX Asylum

OccupyLSX defaced walls

#OccupyLSX revolting ... I mean, leading the revolution

This morning St Paul’s emerges from behind the human-scale petri dish that was #OccupyLSX and will be relegated to the pages of history … or, spoken of in reverential tones in two decades’ time in BBC retrospective documentaries in the same way as, not so long ago, was the Greenham Common Wimmin’s Camp. That exercise, too, proved just as pointless and ineffectual, though at least the sisters managed to keep a fairly consistent and clear message throughout their time there, in some contrast to the comparative rookies at #OccupySomewhereAnywhere-AsLongAsWeDon’tHaveToPayForIt.

I thought that as one of my first posts after my annual blogging sabbatical I would reflect on my own visit to the site – yes, I did go there and see it for myself, shortly before Christmas.

Of course, there were others like me surveying the camp, but one couldn’t help but get the impression they were viewing it not in awe, but going to see it out of a mixture of curiosity, quiet amusement and pity. I was put in mind of the old style Victorian mental asylums which admitted the general public as spectators. Surveying the poor wretches, living in their own little world, surrounded by others of the same affliction, convinced that their perception of reality was the truth … yes, I too felt I was having the same experience as those 19th century gawpers.

Ask any spectator what they thought, and the least offensive opinion could be summed up as “meh”.

OccupyLSX remember them?

Occupy St. Paul's ... remember them?

What is noticeable about the SquatLSX camp is the variety of ‘causes’ that have taken up residence there. Now to the organisers this is undoubtedly looked on as a ‘positive’ – yet in fact it only serves to dilute whatever could be loosely termed their original ‘message’. As with so many public protests of the Left, quantity trumps quality. A corner was devoted to protesting about an imprisoned Turkish socialist – what a way to get an obscure issue into the public domain than to hide it among the noise of every other trendy and tired leftist cause. And it is wholly Leftist, for all the talk from the SquatLSX organisers of representing the 99%.

Yet maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps in the middle somewhere was the Ayn Rand bookshop, or the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tent. Perhaps the Finsbury Square satellite site is where they are holding the Friedman lectures.

I also noticed the portable loos were in place, though their presence clearly hadn’t stopped some from answering the call of nature at the door of God’s house. It was wholly unsurprising to sit in Starbucks and watch some of the nemeses of capitalism taking a seat on one of the evil capitalist comfortable sofas long enough to take advantage of the evil capitalist free wifi.

Now, once again the 99% can enjoy the magnificence of Wren’s creation without the added authentic squalor of Sir Christopher’s London that was provided by the squatters. Oh, and Starbucks can re-open their customer toilets.

I’m Bored. Let’s Have a Go at a Green.

Green Patio Heater

What? It's green isn't it? (You can get them in silver too, I think.)

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly. He’s a ‘London-wide’ member, which means he wasn’t popular enough to be voted in for an actual GLA constituency.

Anyway, not having to service a constituency means he has time to pen missives to every local paper in London and the surrounds, such as this:

Londoners are facing high unemployment, falling real incomes, soaring rents and fares, as well as environmental problems such as dangerous air pollution and cold homes.

I want the Mayor of London to set a budget which responds to these basic concerns.

Freezing the council tax will help slightly, but Londoners travelling to work are having to pay out far more in fare rises, than they are saving in council tax.

Did you notice what was missing? The one major cost pressure he didn’t list was fuel prices – over half of which are made up of taxes and duties. Oh but of course, cars are evil aren’t they?

Rewarding people for using environmentally friendly public transport should take priority over car driving in London.

In the short term we can lower fares by raising the central London congestion charge for the most polluting gas guzzlers and setting up a new ‘anti-pollution’ charging zone around Heathrow airport.

In the longer term, this may well solve the problems of people travelling in to London, since once the congestion charge has been raised so high that no-one can service the place, they’ll be out of a job, or working outside (Inner) London*. Yes, it will have to go up for every vehicle, since it has always been about revenue-raising and not reducing congestion (which it doesn’t).

This is just one of the ways in which the Mayor could improve our environment, whilst helping the poorest to cope with hard times.

You know, Darren, this isn’t the 1950’s; the era when estates for ‘poor people’ were laid out with no provision for cars because poor people just couldn’t afford, or didn’t need, to drive.

Outside Inner London, there are many people – ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ – for whom a freeze in council tax is worth more than the rise in the fares they pay for their occasional trip into town. Of course, what would really make a difference to their living costs – whether it’s transport (those evil cars) or “cold homes” – is reducing the cost of fuel. That’s the cost, for instance, of filling the car up so they can get to work, since not everyone toils in Zone 1 (and yes, that may include charging up the Pious Prius). The trouble is, Darren Johnson’s solution to that probably involves windmills, and the sort of financially myopic interventionism in the energy and oil industries that would just bring forward the day when the lights do actually go out.

But hey, by then at least we’ll have this global warming licked and we can avoid that traditional spike in demand for sun cream every February.

* Indeed (for the sake of completeness) once no-one can be bothered to use Heathrow anymore because the cab fare costs more than the flight….

That B&B Case: It’s Not About Being Christian, or Gay – It’s About Property

So yes, I’m back, so hopefully you’ll forgive the essay-length post – I get my hand back in soon enough.

Genuine freedom cannot exist without economic freedom. A prerequisite of economic freedom is the upholding of private property rights. Yet are we slowly losing sight of the importance of the right to own property?

I am not simply referring to ‘property’ in the sense of land and building, but private ownership in a broader sense, to include everything from the cash in your bank account to intangible assets such as investments and intellectual property, and even – though I find it sad to have to include it now – your own body.

We are accustomed, of course, to the Left having no respect, or seemingly understanding, of property rights – the simple concept of being able to own and enjoy property without undue interference: wilful damage of property is not seen as violence, private property is seen as depriving another of its use, the state is seen as having first call on property should the “common good” require it – be it anything from the compulsory purchase of land and buildings to the confiscation (even with compensation) of shares in a private company.

An Englishman's Home Is His Castle, sort of...Yet like so much that arose from socialist doctrine – a 1940’s health service, or nationalised postal services, say – there are many Conservatives who either fail to appreciate or actively defend or promote action that erodes property rights.

One key example is in town planning. Many countries might design zoning systems to establish some sort of control of urban sprawl, setting down broad principles of siting and design less open to arbitrary interpretation. The UK, on the other hand, in yet another hangover of late 40’s socialist planning – can even go as far as dictating the design and colour of windows and the seemingly tiniest details of a building (if you are living in a conservation area or listed building). You will find plenty of councillors from all sides who support this system, whether through conviction or the perception that many of their residents do. Everyone wants to be able to do what they want to their own house, but are equally happy to have the council dictate what others do on theirs, beyond that which might genuinely hinder their own enjoyment of their property.

Another example arises from today’s story (not the first such case) which the headline to this post references; a product of the legislative bulldozer that is Equalities. The Christian B&B owners who barred a gay couple from their B&B had been reported to the police – a result of legislation which trumps the right to bar or welcome whoever you like from entering your property. The legislation was a product of the Labour government, so no surprises there. What was disappointing was the Conservative reaction.

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Parish Notice

Yes I know, blogging has been light to non-existent recently. The good bad news is that it will remain so until the end of January.

And of course, as per usual, they’ve gone and scheduled Christmas just weeks before the tax return filing deadline!

Play nicely while I’m away.

Dear Unions, Those Pensions/Mortgage Analogies of Yours? You’re Doing It Wrong

We are now just a few weeks away from the 30th November public sector strikes, when public sector unions will be (officially at least) protesting over the thinning of the gold plating on their pensions. Some of the more interesting points being made by the unions are the analogies being drawn with mortgages.

For example, one disgruntled public sector worker on the radio today likened the pension reforms to having a mortgage where, a few years in, the estate agent ‘phones up and says the original purchase price has increased and so your mortgage repayments have to go up.

Then there was Brian Strutton, the GMB spokesman, who said that estimates of the the pension deficit were…

… the equivalent of taking a snapshot of your personal finances part way through a mortgage – it looks like you’ve got an unaffordable debt but the reality is to look at the long term and whether you can meet that debt.

There Mr Strutton has, unwittingly hinted at the problem. The things is, the mortgage analogies could be good comparisons, if only they were to use accurate ones.

To properly compare a pension to a mortgage, a far closer comparison can be made with a endowment mortgage. As many have learned literally to their cost, the endowments running alongside their mortgages are not necessarily going to pay out enough when the time comes to clear the capital debt.

In a very similar way public sector pensions are akin to the mortgagee who, having discovered that the forecast endowment value in a few years is insufficient, is having to either make extra repayments (or investments) and/or will have to remortgage or extend the term of the loan – rather like a defined benefit pension scheme member having to increase their contributions or work longer.

So by all means let’s compare public sector pensions to mortgages: poor performing endowment mortgages.

The big difference with public sector pensions, of course, is that they would rather the taxpayer continue to compensate for the shortfall in the final payout. Many of those taxpayers can never hope to build up the pension pot that many in the public sector will retire with (or the equivalent thereof). In a race to the bottom, those taxpayers are already well past the winner’s tape while public sector pension members will barely have to jump the first set of hurdles.

The Archbishop Wades In With Irony and Ignorance

It seems that a man whose career is built on faith in the supernatural and thinks Sharia Law is a good idea now supports the ‘Robin Hood Tax’.

I could just end the post there, really, but as I haven’t blogged for a week or so, I’ll carry on.

The Archbishop has clearly been taken in by the ‘it’s all the bankers fault’ fallacy. Need I point out yet again that for an irresponsible lender there must be an irresponsible borrower? I assume Dr. Williams is not in a forgiving mood. He has obviously had some divine gift in actually being able to ascertain exactly what the St. Paul’s squatters are on about. In his view, the answer is our old friend, the Robin Hood Tax.

This means a comparatively small rate of tax (0.05 per cent) being levied on share, bond, and currency transactions and their derivatives, with the resulting funds being designated for investment [sic] in the “real” economy [sic], domestically and internationally.

The Tobin Tax / Financial Transactions tax / Robin Hood Tax is unworkable, as to be truly effective all countries would need to impose it. That is not going to happen as there will always be those who see an opportunity to capitalise on other nation’s masochistic tax regimes.

Even as far as it does get imposed, the cost of such a ‘small’ tax – it would take £30bn out of the UK economy – will ultimately fall on us, not the bankers. That’s us, through our pensions, bank charges, insurance premiums, energy prices, in fact almost every day to day commodity uses the sort of financial instruments that the tax would hit. I’ve blogged before on it (look for the first comment on there – a good technical demolition of the tax). Furthermore, naturally, the better qualified Timmy has had a go this morning.

So that’s the ignorance dealt with, now for the irony. Let’s look at the irony of the Archbishop supporting a tax.

If we want to take seriously the moral agenda of the protesters at St Paul’s, these are some of the ways in which we should be taking it forward.

Moral? Tax is immoral. Yes, it is a necessary evil; it is the most practical way to fund certain indivisible public services, but far beyond that it is used as a (largely ineffective and counter-productive) tool of ‘social justice’ through the forced redistribution of wealth or supporting one group’s view of deserving causes. That’s the “investment in the ‘real’ economy” cobblers the Archbishop is coming out with. Let’s face it, if you were mugged it wouldn’t make the crime any less immoral if the mugger then donated his ill-gotten gains to the local homeless shelter, would it?

The fact is that if the Archbishop truly understood the issues that the so-called ‘anti-capitalist’ squatters claim to be concerned with, he would recognise that it is not capitalism that is the problem, it is corporatism, and more tax and regulation will simply push us towards more of the same.

As further reading I can recommend Alistair Heath‘s piece today, but for my part I will leave you with one last thought for the day. Previous high profile supporters of the Robin Hood Tax have included actors, Bill Gates (the visionary who failed to foresee the rise in popularity of the internet and smartphones) and, naturally, politicians (so no vested interests there then). With the exception of the last, these supporters hardly have any real influence on matters. If you think the Chief Executive of the Church of England falls into the same category, and that it doesn’t really matter if he wants to come out with such economically illiterate socialist cobblers, then I will just say this: ‘faith schools’.

How To Get The Right & Bob Crow on the Same Side #EU #PeoplesPledge

Tomorrow’s vote will change nothing and we will not get a referendum on our EU membership this side of 2016.

Well, that was stating the blinking obvious I admit; it’s a non-binding vote even if enough MPs had the principles and minerals to vote for it. The debate is significant though, as it will be the first time that there will be a serious debate on the principle of a referendum on our membership of the EU which will draw in the PM and Foreign Secretary.

It will also be a useful albeit small step on the road to a referendum and, hopefully, our exit from the EU (or, as Europhile referendum supporters like Keith Vaz would put it, ‘settle the issue once and for all’ in the hope of staying in). We will be able to name names and see just how sound our MPs are.

It will also enable us to carry out that exercise on MPs on both sides of the house. One refreshing aspect of yesterday’s ‘People’s Pledge’ event was the genuine cross party involvement (by which I don’t mean another session of UKIP vs. Tory back-biting) and for a rightie like me it was particularly enlightening to hear the case put from a left-wing perspective alongside those of my own political persuasion. Indeed, I didn’t stay for the Conservative panel’s session; if I wanted to hear right-wingers banging on about Europe I could just talk to myself go to a Bruges Group meeting.

It takes some doing to get the likes of the RMT (one of the anti-EU unions) and Dan Hannan to agree, but the arrogance of Cameron and Miliband have achieved it. Ed Miliband might be siding with David Cameron in calling the pro-referendum campaigners ‘barking’, but he should remember that Britain is a nation of dog lovers. His own party membership’s views on a referendum are close to the Conservatives with over half supporting it.

Frankly the news I found most disconcerting in recent months was not Cameron’s three line whip on tomorrow’s vote (sadly I was unsurprised by such Heathite behaviour), but Ed Miliband’s ruling out a referendum being in the next Labour manifesto – I suspect that, given Cameron’s self-survival instinct, such a pledge could tip the balance and force the Conservatives to match Ed’s bid or risk serious in-fighting 1992-style. Of course, given that Labour’s half-baked promise ‘to increase tuition fees but just not by as much as those nasty Tories’ was openly admitted to be unlikely to survive until 2015, there may still be some cause for hope.

For once only I shall say, “more power to Bob Crow’s elbow!”