Thursday, March 31, 2005

Spot the Difference (2)

A report is published by the IFS on Wednesday showing that there are 500,000 fewer children in poverty now than in 1997. "The report found that the incomes of the UK's poorest households had risen in recent times". Whilst not as positive as the Government may have wished, it demonstrates the fight against poverty is moving in the right direction.

A report is published by the IFS on Thursday showing that average household incomes have fallen for the first time in a decade. A Treasury spokesman said "The IFS analysis is complete rubbish".

You choose...

Child Poverty Report

The BBC reports that the number of children living in poor households has fallen by 500,000 since 1997, according to an official report. No doubt all thanks to Gordon's very generous family tax credits. I just wonder how this "noble" cause will ever truly be achieved. The Government's stated goal is to eradicate child poverty by 2020, however, childhood poverty is not defined as an absolute level below which someone is poor but if living in a household whose income is lower than 60% of the national average. Forgive my ignorance, but as far as I can tell, there are only two ways to achieve such a goal. Either prevent the poorest families from having children - and I assume this is socially unacceptable - thereby reducing absolute numbers of poor children or find ways to prevent the national average income from increasing as any increase automatically creates more relatively poor children. Better still, reduce the national average income and fewer children are relatively poor. Is this Gordon's secret agenda when middle class incomes are being reduced year on year?

Local Income Tax

Even if a local income tax was a good idea, and it isn't, will different parishes, towns or counties be able to charge different tax rates?
Will people move from one area to another to take advantage of lower rates?
What happens if you move across a "border" half way through the year or your income changes during the year?
Will areas offer discounts to attract higher earners?
Will the Inland Revenue be able to cope with a myriad of new local tax rates changing on an annual basis adding to the complexity of an already struggling tax system?
Who will prevent local expenditure from rising ever higher as those using local services the most will have the least chance of paying for them?
Will rich local authorities continue to see their taxes allocated to "needier areas"?
Have the Liberal Democrats thought about the actual mechanics of their idea?

If the rate is uniform across the country then it hardly strikes me as being a local income tax. It will just be another tax on the successful and responsible to pay for the workshy and irresponsible.

I assume pensioners in large houses will no longer feel obliged to downsize as they are no longer charged a tax on occupancy. How will new families therefore be able to purchase their family houses or will it stoke house price inflation again?

Update Should council staff responsible for council tax collection be worried about their jobs if the Liberal Democrats win power? Or will they retained whilst the Inland Revenue recruits more staff to deal with their growing remit?

Hurry up and call that election Tony!!

Tony, hurry up and call the election before the economy gets too bad!! Nationwide said that house prices had a "soft landing" falling 0.6% in February, the biggest monthly drop since 1995. Doesn't sound like a soft landing to me, more a plunge!! Meanwhile, The Times reports that average household incomes have fallen for the first time in almost fifteen years according to Government figures. This can never be a good point from which to start any election campaign. Even retail sales continue to fall, now falling at their fastest pace in six months.

The fact that the opposition parties are just as incompetent and don't deserve a vote either should be a national disgrace. If anything, at this rate Labour will win the election because "Better the devil you know".

Dr. Who's next?

Pity the poor BBC. After just one broadcast episode, Chris Ecclestone has announced his plans to quit the culturally iconic Dr. Who role having had to work for a "gruelling" eight months.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"School meals, school meals and school meals"

That was what Tony Blair really meant when he was shouting "Education, education and education" in those heady days way back in 1997 when "Things can only get better".

Eight years and a TV series later, Jamie Oliver has managed the impossible and twisted Gordon's arm to make available £280m from a (now) larger budget deficit to improve school dinners. That's a great idea, throw money at a problem, and it will go away until after the election, better still, create a quango, "The School Foods Trust" costing £60m and that's one more troublesome problem solved until after the election. What the quango will achieve is anyone's guess, cost benefit analysis? Bah humbug..

Maybe I'm just a little too cynical but in much the same way that most increased funding in education and the NHS has been "invested" in higher salaries, what's to stop food suppliers just increasing food prices to local schools? Local suppliers now know that food budgets have been swelled and will want their share of the bigger cake too. Those increased oil prices need to be passed on you know. Lower prices could also be the result of better negotiations whilst higher prices could be the result of weak negotiation.

However, it was bad news for the Liberal Democrats as Jamie Oliver, wishing to raise school dinners above mere party politics, will be seeing Michael Howard on Thursday in case (1% chance!?!) the Conservatives win the election. I don't believe any such meeting has been arranged with Charles Kennedy yet, sorry Charlie!!

The Conservatives have already endorsed the increased spending caused by Jamie Oliver. I just wonder why the general public is again expected to pick up the tab, why can't parents be expected to pay for their childrens meals? It seems a far more equitable solution to me.

Spot the Difference

The Marmite TV ad was banned when six people complained about it. Sixty thousand people complained (actually sixty three thousand!!) about the broadcasting of "Jerry Springer, The Opera" yet the BBC Board of Governors pat themselves on the back saying that all the complainants were wrong saying that the "artistic significance outweighed the offence caused". I didn't watch the show myself but wonder if the BBC will be showing a production of the play banned in Birmingham that would cause offence to Sikhs or any shows that would offend Muslims.

Seems to me that Christians are the victims as the BBC governors can wallow in their "Freedom of expression" defence whilst telling the Christians to "Get stuffed". Of course, they are also safe in the knowledge that their customer base can show no financial disapproval by voting with their feet and shopping elsewhere as that's illegal in the UK.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The British Film Industry

Yet another example of good, solid joined up Government. The Government has announced plans for a training board to help budding film-makers pursue their careers. I don't really understand how the Government can claim the credit for this new initiative as the scheme is being funded by a levy on the industry. Why not simply stop the tax subsidies to the film industry and reallocate those funds to training!?! On just one film costing £20m, the initiative would receive £4m of taxpayers money. Would that upset Sir Richard Attenborough who is so keen to endorse Labour!?!

I hope they also learn how to write good scripts if films such as "28 days later" represent the pinnacle of British filmmaking.

Teacher jailed for firing air gun.

What conclusion is to be drawn from this story on the BBC today? Admittedly the teacher went too far when firing a pellet gun and should have had the self control from her teaching experience to prevent this despite the yobs making her life hell over many months. However, there are no details of the Police trying to stop the anti social behaviour in the first place. Have they arrested the youth who pressed for the charges? Fish were stolen from her pond, her son's car was vandalised, they received abusive telephone calls, what was done to stop this? Surely nothing can be worse than not being able to relax in the security of your own home free from fear of your neighbours. I suspect she felt pretty helpless in the circumstances and let down by "the system", only her drastic actions could bring it to a stop.

The only people laughing will be the yobs who have won by getting her imprisoned for six months.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Every postal vote counts

With Richard Mawrey QC's recent description of the present system of postal voting as an "Open invitation to fraud" following allegations against Labour Party activists during last year's local elections in Birmingham. I wonder what is driving the surge in requests for postal votes in Woking, currently at 15,000 compared to 2,356 at the 2001 election. Humfry Malins (the sitting MP) should be starting to ask a few questions and feel a little nervous in this safe Tory seat. Based on the 2001 election turnout, a third of all votes will be postal votes this time and that's discounting the presumed surge in requests for postal votes when the election date is set!!

Update How the 15,000 people know that they will not be able to vote in person is beyond me when the election date has not even been set yet!!

Compensation to Teachers

What is happening in schools these days? The BBC reports that a record £2m was paid to NUT teachers last year as compensation for accidents and incidents at schools throughout the UK. Naturally, the BBC can't resist blaming the accidents on the poor state of schools, but the key incidents involve parents attacking teachers and pupils wandering around with kettles of hot water. Whatever happened to discipline in schools and why aren't the animals they are teaching blamed for some of this nonsense!?!

Hardworking Families

Thanks should go to Laban Tall for a good example of the hard working families so beloved of Gordon. I do hope they get a larger house soon as it must be struggle where they currently live. Tony never seems to suggest that my taxes go on anything other than health and education. I assume he could never say that cuts in public spending could mean that the Scotts have to get by on just £30k each year.

Would a pledge to limit total benefits per household to *just* £24k per year (average annual salary in the UK) be a vote winner or a vote loser for any political party?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Labour Schadenfreude

The Tories should be ashamed of themselves. For a while, there seemed to be a "real" choice in the forthcoming election between big Government and even bigger Government. Such a hope has now been cruelly dashed on the rocks of honesty. A Tory MP, Howard Flight has dared to speak the unspeakable, not about immigration nor gypsy rights but that (shhhh!!) potential for savings in Government expenditure could easily exceed the £35bn of savings identified in the James Committee report. Additional savings were identified yet it was felt that the public could only stomach savings of £35bn being achieved. It's ironic that he should be sacked for being honest as only last week, politicians from across the spectrum were looking for ways of increasing public trust in them

This bout of honesty has now lanced Howard Flight's career and presumably condemned Britain to another five years of tax increases and a big, inefficient Government regardless of whoever is in power. It has now closed down one of the only areas where there was any clear blue water between Labour and the Tories. It has also denied many voters the choice of bigger or smaller Government.

Personally, I also have to question Michael Howard's character to be trusted as Prime Minister, his decision to sack a valued colleague (up until Wednesday) in the face of some Labour jibes smacks of extreme panic rather than leadership. Why didn't he have the strength of character to see out the storm rather than throw Howard Flight to the dogs? Tony wouldn't have done it. Would it have done the Tory election chances any harm if they had said, "Yes, we do want to cut taxes and get more value for the taxpayers pound"? Why let Labour set the agenda on public sector spending and waste?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Air Marshalls?

Are armed Air Marshalls still flying on selected flights to and from the US? I vaguely recall that pilots were concerned about the risks but have heard no more on the subject.

Run for the hills

Listening to the Today programme most mornings, you are often subjected to a bombardment of initiatives from Government ministers, I don't ever recall a time when a minister was not available to espouse the latest nonsense. However, as soon as a bad news item is run, they all seem to head for the mountains. For example, the latest Iraqgate news this morning, the Attorney General's supposed change of mind over the legality of the Iraq war and the alleged torture and imprisonment of British nationals in Egypt who were not being "aided by the Foreign Office" were mety with the usual "no one was available for comment". Maybe the next time a good news item is run, the BBC should refuse to give airtime to the Minister concerned!!

Welcome to taxation Jack.

Jack Straw is defending the EU rebate worth about £4bn a year that Margaret Thatcher won for the UK back in 1984. Amazing really as it's the first time in ages that I have ever agreed with Jack. Naturally the rest of Europe and President Chirac in particular claim that the rebate is unfair as Britain is now richer than many other EU countries and certainly richer than it was in 1984. Also true!! I suggest that this is thanks to the painful economic reforms that the UK went through that the rest of the EU continue to resist. Why should we therefore compensate the rest of Europe for our success? The only thing disturbing about this is that if the UK was an individual, the British government would have no such problems increasing personal taxes on such a successful individual!!

"To bolster its cause, the Government issued figures showing that since Britain joined the EU, it would have contributed £239 billion without the rebate. After the rebate, Britain has contributed £181 billion. In return, it has received £105 billion worth of agricultural and development subsidies." Hardly a statement that Europhiles will be promoting. Can I have a rebate on my taxes? I have already contributed far more than I will ever receive too!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Liberal Democrat commandments

Those ten Liberal Democrat pledges / commandments in full - with apologies to Moses:

1. There is no leader quite like Charles Kennedy
2. Thou shall covert the European Union and proportional representation.
3. Thou shall not steal, except from the rich.
4. Thou shall not punish the criminals.
5. There is no Real Alternative but the Liberal Democrats.
6. Love thy neighbour, especially Asylum Seekers and Gypsies.
7. Thou shall wear no facial hair or sandals.
8. Thou shall not earn over £100k.
9. Thou shall not publicize the most ridiculous commandment.

Liberal pledges

Good to see that the Liberals are promising to recruit an additional 10,000 Police. On the basis that only 10% of their time is spent "on the beat", that's an effective increase of just 1,000!! I must buy some shares in the leading paperclip manufacturers in anticipation of all the additional paperwork they will create.

Why don't they look at reforming the Police and aim to double the time on the beat? That would double Police visibility, be far more reassuring to the public and wouldn't require any tax increases either!!

BBC job cuts

With the latest round of job cuts at the BBC, can we expect a reduced Licence Fee in future? No, I didn't think so either. The money will be reinvested (spent!!) on other quality home improvement / DIY shows!!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Opportunistic and responding to events?

Seems to me that Tony Blair jumping onto the bandwagon supporting Jamie Oliver's campaign to improve school meals is avoiding the real election issues, economy and the public services, and smacks of opportunism as Labour's general election co-ordinator Alan Milburn might say.

£35bn of Tory spending cuts.

The latest slanging match between Labour and the Tories over the amount of money that will be cut/not spent in six to seven years time seems a little theoretical and pointless to me. One interesting issue raised though is that if Tony Blair is to be believed (ha!!) then the £35bn of cuts would be "the equivalent of sacking every doctor, teacher and nurse in the country". Naturally, it makes me wonder where all the other money goes? Why does he never say that a £35bn reduction would mean cuts in benefits to the workshy?

Does your vote count?

Tony Blair is happy to promote the idea that we all live in a democracy. Do we really live in a democracy where your vote counts? I really don't believe my vote counts for anything as I do not live in a marginal constituency. All the major parties will be concentrating their resources (quite rightly from their perspective) at the upcoming election in marginal constituencies where every vote really does count. Unfortunately, as I do not live in such a marginal constituency no one will be chasing for my vote. Does this mean I've been disenfranchised?

Current Abbey advert

A little off topic but felt it was worthy of comment. Watching TV the other night, I saw the latest Abbey (formerly Abbey national) advert for their cash ISAs. For some reason that escapes me, they have chosen to publicise their product by strapping a chap to a rocket, his mate launches it and he then proceeds to fly around London strapped to this rocket before flying towards the camera. Why anyone would make the connection between this unfortunate circumstance and investing your hard earned money in an Abbey cash ISA is beyond me. Do only stupid people invest in Abbey cash ISAs?

The only thing it reminds me of is the legendary Darwin awards.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

School bans girl with hair braids

It was never a question of "If?" but "When?" this school uniform nonsense would continue. Following the recent High Court decision that allowed a Muslim girl, Shabina Begum, to wear the jilbab at school despite the school's uniform policy that forbade it, a white girl is now complaining that her school is refusing to let her attend classes as her hair is braided whilst both a black pupil and pupil of mixed race are allowed to attend with braided hair. The school has offered to teach her in isolation whilst her father threatens court action!! I just wonder how much the court case will cost teh taxpayer and how much damages she will win for hurt pride?

Unmarried Couples to get Divorce rights

I saw this article briefly the other day but it does not appear to have recieved much media attention. The Government is looking at ways of reforming the law so that unmarried couples have divorce style rights to the other person's property and even pension if they have lived together for more than two years and then split up.

Apparently the argument is that most people don't know they have no rights. This is a very weak argument to me as the way to overcome this is surely to communicate this weakness rather than legislate.

The only winners as far as I can see will be the cabal of lawyers. Many people surely resist getting married due to the arcane divorce laws in this country. For example, all pre-marriage assets and savings are shared equally on divorce rather than returned to the original owner.

France to reject the EU constituition?

Once again, France beats us!! It seems that France could well reject the EU constitition before we have the chance to reject it!! Ironically, the French believe the EU consititution is an Anglo-Saxon stitch up rather than being the tidying up exercise that our Great Leader would have us believe. I don't recall Tony Blair ever arguing that voting yes "will lock in French leadership of the EU"!!

Friday, March 18, 2005

The "undeserving rich"

In a recent letter to Gordon Brown, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, Treasury Spokesman for the Liberal Democrats questioned the Stamp Duty exemption on commercial property transactions in deprived areas as follows; "Can you please tell me why the taxpayer is handing out £8.6m to the undeserving rich by exempting the buyer from stamp duty on the purchase of this second hand Holborn Office Block?". Following the budget, such "loopholes" have now been closed, but what disturbs me is why the rich are deemed to be "undeserving"? If they have worked hard, studied, taken advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, then why are they "undeserving". It could just as well be applied to the "undeserving" poor who have done and will do nothing to better themselves in life yet expect everyone else to subsidise them.

Update In this week's New Statesman magazine, it points out that the top 10% of high earners pay over 50% of all income tax receipts. It seems to me that they are far more deserving than most to receive some benefits, and dare I say, some thanks for paying for the rest of us!! As the other 90% of us pay the other half, is there a case for massively simplyfing the tax system, increasing allowances and reducing the Inland Revenue headcount?

A-level economics lesson

I have great respect for the National Audit Office (NAO), their reports are usually very thorough and well researched. If anything, it is often a shame that they are not more involved in the decision making process earlier as I am sure that their good counsel would save the taxpayer many millions of pounds that could be better spent elsewhere. Imagine my surprise when reading the NAO conclusions of the newly deregulated Directory enquiries service that could have been written by any A-level economics student.

"Residential consumers are paying more for directory enquiry services than under 192" and "Consumers are using directory enquiry services less frequently than they did prior to deregulation". That is what happens as you move along a demand curve.

"Consumers are confused by the array of numbers on offer and as a result use directory services with the most memorable numbers, which may not always offer the best prices." I cannot think of any consumer market where this would not apply.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Latest on House Arrest

Since the Anti-terrorism (House arrest) Bill entered the statute books last week and all the political point scoring over whether Tony Blair accepted a sunset clause or not, what has happened?

Do I feel less safe? No.
Do I feel safer? No.
Do I feel about the same as last week? Yes.
Have there been any terrorist outrages since their release? No, not yet thankfully.
Are we now spending £500k per week on 24 hour security for nine individuals? Yes.
Was the release another example of bureaucrats organising a piss-up in a brewery? Yes.

Gypsy evictions frozen for the time being.

Once again, gypsies are shown to have more rights under British and European law than other Britons as all forced evictions have been frozen pending the outcome of a legal case. This will determine if their human rights to a home, family life and privacy could be breached if they are evicted. If successful, the case could presumably have wide ranging implications, whilst not being a lawyer myself, it could add another level of interest between landlords and their tenants if rent is not being paid on time or in full!!

Thankfully their case has only cost British taxpayers £300,000 so far.

The Battle of Margaret's shoulder (4)

Following unprecedented coverage in most newspapers (Even mentioned in Private Eye), Margaret's operation wasn't cancelled an eighth time but actually brought forward by one week just like all operations in the NHS.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Response to the Budget

Once again, the signal goes out that only morons work hard or save money. It is far better to be a burden on the state than try to improve your lot in life. Want a lifestyle choice, choose benefits, choose children, choose a free life. Let others pay for your council tax, pay for your rent, pay for your furniture, pay for your prescriptions. I just wish my careers advisor had been better informed!!

On the BBC website, the reaction seems somewhat muted from around the country. 70% of voters think Gordon didn't get the budget right whilst most comments are rather hostile. I pity the poor Labour canvassers doing the rounds in coming months!!

One of the few winners must be Gordon himself, who can now look forward to earning the first £21k of his salary tax free thanks to the effect of child tax free credits.

Marmite advert banned

The latest Marmite advert has been banned from childrens'
television as six people (out of a population of 60 million) complainedabout it. Of these six people, two complained that it had caused distress to their children whilst the other four complained that their children no longer wanted to watch television. Perish the thought, it could have been the best thing that ever happens to those children as they would have grown up interacting with their parents, developing social skills, playing outside, improving their immune systems and reducing the chances of obesity. As it is, they are now condemned to watching television for five hours a day.

Rather than banning the advert, it should have been on childrens' TV during every commercial break!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Cannibal case

House of dumb has a very good post on the Cannibal case. Will the social workers who overruled the Home Office objections to his release be named and shamed or removed from their jobs so that they do not burden the public with any more of their stupid decisions? He already had form as he murdered a shop worker with a hammer in 1993 and yet was released in 2001.

I just hope they never have a change of heart and release him again.

Update This morning on the Today programme, Professor Louis Appleby, sometime mental health Czar pointed out that murders by
mental health patients have remained static since Care in the Community was
introduced, so that's alright then.

Gordon's Budget

One of the pre-budget leaks (I remember a time when any pre-budget leaks were deemed to be disgraceful) seems to be support for first time buyers through a reduction in stamp duty. The much trailed view being that the stamp duty threshold will be raised to £100,000. This is one of the Gordon's better conjuring tricks, offering punters £200 while taking £200 from their wallets. With average house prices already over £100k everywhere in the country and given the how stamp tax is calculated, an increase in the threshold to £100k would not now save the average first time buyer a penny in tax as once the threshold is breached, stamp duty is payable on the entire purchase price, not the difference between the purchase price and the threshold. Gordon would get his headlines of helping first time buyers whilst not losing a penny in revenue. Nice one Gordon!!

Of course, it can be argued that stamp tax is a tax on house sellers rather than house purchasers, but that is a little too academic for this blog. Essentially, if a buyer has a fixed house buying budget, then stamp tax will be a component of this budget and the seller's house will make up the balance.

EU to fund EU constitution campaign

In the name of democracy and the spread of knowledge, the EU is to fund a £5.5m campaign on the EU constitution so that voters are able to make an informed choice in the referendums taking place around Europe.

It can be taken for granted that the merits of the EU consitution will be promoted rather than the downsides, however, I am puzzled. I have been led to believe that the likeliest country to reject the EU constitution and therefore send the whole of EU into a new and deeper political crisis was the UK. IT would therefore seem reasonable to expect that the largest tranche of the funding would be spent in the UK, but no, only £86,000 is to be spent in the UK. What do they expect to achieve with such a small amount of money? Does that pay for the design of one billboard poster? Rent a couple of billboards for a week? A half page advert in a couple of newspapers? Answers on a postcard please!!

Just as importantly, which other countries need to be better informed to justify the remaining £5,414,000!?! If you believe certain pundits, Britain is the only eurosceptic nation...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Private pupil access to Universities

Were you to believe the Labour Party, the state education system has improved by leaps and bounds since the dark days of Tory misrule, so why do they need to set quotas for the number of state educated pupils at the top Universities in the country?

If a surgeon was about to operate on me, I would feel more comfortable in the knowledge that "despite having attended a private school", they had top grades rather than one who didn't as they had been socially disadvantaged when younger and so could only "do their best" given the circumstances!!

Motorways for lorries only?

The Times reports that the new Traffic Czar wants to see more cars off motorways and using trunk roads more often so that traffic of "economic importance" only uses the motorways.

I have a couple of problems with this:
1) My journey to work is of "economic importance" to me and El Gordo, as he takes a large chunk of tax out of my pay packet each week and again through petroleum and car tax on my way to work too!!
2) Shifting more cars back onto trunk roads rather than the motorway will presumably increase the casualty rate amongst both drivers and pedestrians as motorways are the safest roads in the UK.
3) Can I expect a reduction in my car tax for paying for the M25 widening only to discover it's not available for me to drive on?
4) Will it be better for me to work even further from home so that I am not guilty of getting on at one junction and off at the next junction?
5) Should I adopt Chris Eubank's idea and buy myself a lorry to drive to work - yes, I know it's a silly idea but I'm just highlighting an issue!!
6) Having to pay £1.50 a mile to drive to work will make it cheaper for me to stay at home and claim benefits, way to go!!
7) Frankly, congestion will never be so bad that all the roads ever suffer total and permanent gridlock as commuters will adopt different methods of transportation or move closer to work or find jobs closer to home. Such a common sense approach doesn't have the air of doing anything and so would never be recommended.

Full marks to Labour

For the purposes of balance within this blog (!), it is good to see that Labour have rejected £500k of a much needed donation as the lobbyist allegedly has a pretty colourful client list.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Law West of Ealing Broadway

Just added a new blog to my list of blogs that I'll be visting on a regular basis, The Law West of Ealing Broadway. It's a blog literally detailing the trials (geddit!!) and tribulations of a magistrate to the west of London, looks like a very good read.

Theft of Disabled Badges

The Times highlights a growing problem in some of the major cities around the UK today, the theft of Disabled car badges. These permits are worth up to £1,000 on the black market as they exempt the owner from parking charges at parking meters, pay and display car parks as well as the ability to park on double yellow lines for up to three hours and so could save the new owner up to £1,500 over three years.

As the badges do not show any personal details on the windscreen side of the badge, and Traffic Wardens bizarrely are not allowed to check the badges until summer 2005, it's a low risk crime for thieves with high rewards for the middlemen who sell the badges on. No wonder the crime is growing!! You may expect the solution to be quite simple, print the car reg on the windscreen side of the badge over a tamper proof background with a hologram, similar to a concert ticket and the idea that Tower Hamlets adopted, but no, the Department of Transport has applied some lateral thinking to the problem and has come up with a database. A contract will be signed with a private firm for a feasibility study shortly. Looking into my crystal ball, they will recommend a database, cost £100m+, will be delivered over budget and late in four years time, and only able to do half of what was originally intended.

Hope the Tories don't win the election!?!

There isa very good article in The Times today by Matthew Parris "hoping" that the Tories do not win the next election. This may sound odd but, on reflection, may be in the Tories best interests in the longer term!! He puts across quite a convincing argument, that the Tories aren't quite ready for government yet, it could fall over the EU constitution, it's unlikely they would have a significant mandate and the economy and housing markets might continue to drift downwards.

Added to these Tory issues, I would also add that with a significantly reduced majority, Tony Blair would no longer be the electoral asset that he once so clearly was. The hounds of the Labour left would be unleashed in a way that would assure the self destruction of the Labour Government and possibly condemn them to another eighteen years in the political wilderness. Political factions would then build up around likely successors to Tony, preventing any real reform and guaranteeing just more tinkering. Meanwhile, the economy is likely to hit the economic buffers in 2006, putting paid to Gordon "No more boom and bust" Brown's infantile boasting.

Friday, March 11, 2005

New bid in auction for OAP votes

In a bidding war that would make even eBay proud, the Liberal Democrats are now offering another £100 a month for single pensioners over 75s, £140 for couples over 75, free personal care and will scrap the council tax, so that there is absolutely no chance that anyone over 65 pays for any of these policy measures either!!

Why anyone of working age should consider voting Liberal Democrat is now beyond me!! But then, only 34% of those in the 18-34 age group are certain to vote compared to 73% of the over 65s. Are the Liberal Democrats being opportunistic and bribing the voting electorate?

EU ruling on mileage expenses

Whoever said that Britain was in charge of it's taxation destiny? Yesterday the European Court of Justice ruled that letting British companies reclaim VAT on fuel charged to expenses was incompatible with European Union law as it could not be guaranteed that employees would use the fuel for business purposes!! The ruling is expected to cost British business £250m a year.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Olympic Bid visit cost £680k

In news that hasn't been widely reported, the recent London Olympic Bid visit cost £680k!! No doubt London council tax payers will be pleased it didn't last five days.

David Blunkett's calls for more honesty

Of all the people to suggest that Labour should be honest with voters, they managed to find David "My travel expense claim is genuine" Blunkett. He apparently also suggested that voters maybe more intelligent than politicians thought. I don't know if that's an endorsement of Labour educational policies or not!!

Free tube travel

One way to keep traffic congestion levels down in London would be to provide free tube travel. So let's see how this unintended experiment progresses!!

It's a little embarrassing for the Oyster promoters however as it was only the other day that they were looking at ways to promote the scheme beyond transport!!

House Arrest Bill continues

As the political stakes continue to be raised over the House arrest Bill, I do wish that both Michael Howard and Tony Blair tried to put the political point scoring to one side and do what's best for the country, rather than what's best for their election prospects. Tony Blair is being mischievous when he says the Tories are being soft on terrorists because at this stage, of course, there is no evidence to convict them of being terrorists and only a suspicion!!

I struggle to see why a sunset clause provokes such controversy when all it means as far I'm concerned is that the controversial legislation needs to be revisited in eight months time.

I particularly dislike Tony's continued opposition to a second chamber that dares to reject his policies. I'd prefer it to reject the occasional piece of bad legislation that simply rubber stamp all the bills that are laid at it's door.

Police "Solving too few crimes"

The Police are not solving enough crimes according to MPs, with only 19% of reported crimes leading to an offender being punished by the courts!! If you really want to know why this is, check out The Policeman's blog. The Home Office aims to raise the figure to 25% by 2008(!?!), this still seems to low to me!! Admittedly, it will never be 100% what with those pesky arsonists destroying evidence by burning out cars, however, a 30% target in 2005 following three years of reforms should be expected.

Of course, once they are brought to justice, the chances of any real punishment seem remote, but that maybe a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Pond Warden Scheme in the South East "Helping to save the planet"

Just perusing this Government News Network and saw this fabulous headline!!

Pointless Research (1)

I've decided I'm going to start a small count on taxpayer funded research that is so bleeding obvious, they could have asked me for my view and they would have saved themselves a fortune in five minutes.

Over at Blimpish, he has just highlighted the Government News Network, (No, I'd never heard of it either!!) website that is presumably even more "on message" than the dear old BBC. Anyway, research has been published today revealing a link between car theft and arson, apparently car thieves, intent on destroying DNA evidence burn cars out!!

In other shocking research, the Pope is Catholic and bears deficate in the woods!!

Chris Woodhead on the case

If there's one person who is a cat amongst the educational pigeons, it's Chris Woodhead. Having read the article, it's just a shame that the chances of a Tory victory are so remote that he won't be given the opportunity to review the curriculum as threatened!!

Presumably Labour think it's a good idea as they only attack the proposal by saying that the Tories will cut £1bn from the education budget. Just once, I wish any political party had the modesty to say, "That's a pretty good idea"!!.

One swallow

It is said that "One swallow doesn't make a summer" and one bad news item doesn't make an economic downturn, but surely Tony and Gordon must be sleeping a little less peacefully these days as the tarnish appears to be coming off their "economic miracle" in the pre-election phony war. Retail sales have suffered the third year-on-year decline in four months, despite straddling the great Christmas bonanza whilst house prices continue to tread water. Should consumer confidence continue to stagnate, it will become increasingly difficult for voters to believe Gordon's economic vision when their own experiences are so very different. What's more, Tony's feathers must be ever so slightly ruffled with the very real prospect of negative equity on his £3.5m London pad.

Surge in credit card fraud and ID cards

After all the fanfare of the new chip and pin credit cards and the catchy line "safety in numbers", it seems that the new cards aren't as safe as the technologists had anticipated. Credit card fraud has surged due to the distinctly old-fashioned postal interception as far as I can tell. I wonder if such high levels of interception will be present when 60 million ID cards are sent through the post in a couple of years? Assuming it goes ahead of course!! More importantly, if someone takes your credit card, you can always cancel it and get a new one. I would be far more troubled if some criminal element had access to my biometric data.

“Fraudsters can disable the chip, for instance by smacking it with a hammer, and pay for goods using a signature,” - what cheeky fraudsters!!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Better the devil you know

I really don't know what to do in the forthcoming election!! Politicians say that everyone should vote, and yes, I guess they should. However, to me, a vote suggests a positive endorsement of a particular party and I really don't endorse any of the parties!! Labour in Scotland suggest that Labour voters should turn out and vote to avoid the "spectre of Thatcher". Once cast, Labour will then use these votes to say that "The people have spoken and support us", when in actual fact, they may well have voted to prevent a worse alternative. To condemn just Labour is perhaps a little harsh as both the Conservatives and Liberals are guilty of this too.

On any objective basis, Labour should be thrown out of office, however, the alternatives seem no better!! I therefore feel that Britain is condemned to another five years of a tolerable Labour government, the Tories will continue to gaze at their collective navel whiltst trying to understand why they are still unelectable, meanwhile, the Liberals will keep going away and preparing for government.

I'm very tempted to join the apathetic and just not bother, on the basis that none of the parties offer any genuinely bold reforms, my taxes will go up regardless, I'll continue to receive next to nothing in return for them whilst being blamed for the ills of all mankind.

Black boys separate classes plan

The head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, has announced a surely "Racist" plan that the best way to address the gap between the poor performance of black boys compared to white pupils, and oddly, black girls too, is to teach black boys separately. It strikes me that had a white person suggested this "good idea", then they would have been condemned for being racist from all sides of the political spectrum and the idea would have been lost altogether.

When Diane Abbott acknowledged the poor performance when taking the "agonising" decision to go private, the London schools Czar said it was based primarily on a myth.

Update Having watched the programme last night, it wasn't as controversial as the pre-publicity suggested. The main arguments that Trevor Philips put forward was that parents (particularly black fathers) should put more effort into promoting education as being of benefit to their children. Naturally this is contrary to Ruth Kelly's assumption the other day that all parents put their children first, but that's another story!! It strikes me that all children would benefit from this so I don't believe this is controversial. He also suggested, shock, horror, that studying and learning isn't cool, it never has been and again isn't unique to one section of society!! Separating black boys into separate classes seems to have been almost an after thought and ties in quite neatly with the wider debate on single sex education, again nothing new there either.

Unfortunately, having been a prospective parent of the White Hart school, Trevor didn't disclose which school he finally sent his child to, shame on him!! He must surely have upset the entire liberal left educational establishment by comparing discipline in the school to the "gold standard" (my words) of the private sector at one point!!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Free set top boxes for the poor and vulnerable?

The government is considering whether to subsidise set top boxes for the poor and vulnerable as the analogue TV signal starts being removed from 2008. Bless 'em!! In my experience, council estates typically have the highest penetration of Sky TV in the country, what else is there to do all day on benefits!! For the more entrepreneurial poor, they will be able to sell the boxes on no doubt, having "lost" their box.

I also wonder why the most populous part of the country, London and the South East, will be the last to receive digital TV in 2011. Naturally, the BBC has done well for itself by ensuring that the set top boxes will not have contain conditional-access technology, thus preventing any possibility of the BBC moving to a subscription funding model.

Labour cry "Gaffe" over Tory tax cuts

Good news at last for all those bemused voters who can see no clear water between any of the major parties!! The Tories have committed a major gaffe by offering tax cuts above and beyond the £4bn they have already earmarked.

Full marks to the Tories for offering substantial tax cuts, I'm yet to meet anyone who thinks they pay too little tax!!

The Battle of Margaret's shoulder (3)

Following the "Tory stunt" of raising the profile of Margaret's poor shoulder, this article on the BBC website attracted my attention. It hasn't appeared on Ceefax and I don't really know what to make of it!!

My understanding of the health service these days was that funding did follow patients, and as a result, treating 2% more patients should lead to increased funding to encourage more positive behaviour!! As it is, they now have a £1.7m shortfall, strange...

I also fail to see how closing beds will reduce the shortfall as staff costs still need to be paid, the wards will still be heated etc. The only way to reduce costs in the short term is by cutting staff and contractor costs. This is unlikely to be popular in a prospective election year.

BloggingBrits logo

A little off topic, so please forgive me, I have recently joined the Blogging Brits Ring. Using Liam's excellent navigaiton icons, I've tweaked the code a little bit so that it can be used on blogger. Hope this helps you!! Please note that the code needs to be changed a little bit as the ID in the example below is 1927 (mine!!) so would need replacing with the ID you are given.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

House price crash on the horizon?

Two separate news items caught my eye yesterday about the state of the housing market in the UK and abroad. The first was a very good article (as always) in The Economist suggesting that house prices are massively overpriced and that it is now cheaper to rent than to buy, especially as most people tend to move after seven years. It went as far as to say that the old wisdom, "Rent is just money down the drain" no longer holds true.

The second item was actually on BBC2 last night also considering the Great House Price Crash of 2005. It had heart warming stories of career landlords no longer earning profits on their multiple rental properties since interest rates had increased five times. Tears were welling up in my eyes!! One expert also blamed the risk of a house price collapse on the unwillingness of first time buyers to prop up the market. This makes the whole housing market sound like a pyramid scheme, indeed, it could well become one if the most recent first time buyers lose their shirts in the coming crash.

Naturally, none of this is of any consequence to Liberal Democrats offering sweetners to First Time Buyers when house prices are at their peak!! If they had any understanding at all of economics, they would reduce the stamp tax threshold to ensure no first time buyers did such a stupid thing as buy a house right now!!

Friday, March 04, 2005

TV Licence Fee to be replaced by PC tax

I struggle to understand why any minister should even contemplate replacing the Licence fee with a tax on PC ownership. Just because the BBC is experimenting with internet broadcasting doesn't mean that I would wish to watch the rubbish the BBC are producing 24/7. The sub text is presumably that wealthier individuals have access to broadband connections, they can therefore afford to pay more for the licence fee too.

BBC pay burglar

Some good news management from the BBC as the story of the £4,000 payment to one of the burglars in the Tony Martin case breaks two days after they secure a Licence fee extension.

What will his story be anyway? We had broken in to the house a couple of times previously, lots of good stuff in there, so thought we would break in again, sneaked through the fields, heard a gun shot, and that was that. Disgraceful, didn't ever think we would be shot whilst thieving... What is this world coming to?

Battle of Margaret's shoulder (2)

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case are, I bet you that her operation is not cancelled again which is surely all that the family wanted in the first place. Labour claim the whole story is a political stunt, of course it is, but I don't believe this is a valid defence. I'm sure Labour never use political stunts themselves or highlight individual cases to condemn or celebrate a public institution!!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Battle of Margaret's shoulder (1)

Michael Howard has raised the case of Mrs. Dixon whose critical operation has been cancelled seven times. John Reid, the Health Secretary, is making a special (?) trip to find out what's been going on whilst Tony Blair suggest that "while the case was unacceptable, it was not fair to use one bad experience to undermine the NHS". I don't recall Tony Blair using such a caveat when he underwent his minor heart procedure and was able to proclaim that everything was wonderful in the NHS as a result of his experience."It reflects the tremendous dedication, expertise and commitment NHS staff show everyday throughout the country."

MMR Update

The picture is still confused on the MMR / single jab debate. Following a comprehensive study in Japan, there appears to be no link between the MMR vaccination and autism, much to the comfort of parents everywhere no doubt. If anything, the research suggests that MMR reduces the chances of being afflicted with autism as autism rates were lower in populations where the MMR jab was administered.

I still wonder if Tony Blair's son Leo was administered with the MMR jab, on the basis that he refused to answer such questions, I assume little Leo had the three individual jabs.

Labour supports the middle classes!!

In it's quest for more "consumer choice", Labour's latest wheeze is to give the parents more say in how their childrens' schools are run. Initially, I welcomed this as parents are always assumed to want the best for their children, however, is this always the case?

Why do they think parents are better qualified to know what's best for their children than the educationalists? - I'm not convinced that educationalists do know the right thing, but that's a discussion for another day...

Will increased parent power remove a tier of underperforming educationalists in the system or will this new move create another level of much needed bureaucracy?

This could be great news for middle class parents who presumably value education and may disagree with the liberal education establishment. However, for certain sections of the population, typically poorer and less well educated (Disadvantaged in PC speak), I'm not sure such parents do sufficiently value their childrens education. This is disturbing as the best way of preventing their children from being condemned to a life of poverty similar to theirs is usually through educational attainment or having a talent for football!!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

House arrest (2)

With the hoo-haa in the Commons and the Lords over the the House Arrest bill, would it have made any difference to the case of the plot to bring down an aircraft over the Atlantic?

It seems to me that the security services have done a fine job, they've got the evidence they needed and thankfully no one was killed. Had he been placed under house arrest, surely the evidence would have been removed and he would have been kept there indefinitely if Tony Blair has his way?

Religious attire at schools

Shabina Begum has won the right to wear her jilbab to school following an appeal court ruling today. As a result of her insistence to wear her jilbab, her school had refused her entry suggesting she join another. Talk about stubborness, she had been happy to wear the regulation school uniform until September 2002, when she had a change of heart and decided that to wear a jilbab would be the way forward, regardless of what the school regulations were.

She doesn't appear very keen on integrating into UK society though as she calls the ruling a victory for Muslims who want to "preserve their identity and values", whatever those are. She expects everyone to tolerate her opinions and customs whilst not prepared to tolerate anyone elses' views. She is amazed that "In the so-called free world I have to fight to wear this attire." Just unfortunate that in this free world, religious attire and practice are now becoming more important than anything else, a school's ability to uphold their uniform policy that "Was agreed by the governing body following wide consultation with the DFES, pupils, parents, schools and leading Muslim organisations." and that "The judges accepted that the school is entitled to have a uniform policy and could see nothing wrong with it,".

As a postscript, it all just seems so pointless now though as she now attends another school anyway where she is allowed to wear the jilbab, she is not seeking any damages and no longer wishes to rejoin her old school, Denbigh High in Luton either!! Once again, lawyers are grinning all the way to the bank...

I assume Shabina would defend my "right" to wear a St. Christopher / crucifix if I ever visit Saudi Arabia and condemn the authorities should I be deported or imprisoned for so doing.

Update!! According to the Daily Mail, the legal case cost £70k, another good waste of my taxes.

Wooing childless individuals, couples and those in work.

Good to see that the Conservatives are wooing the "grey" vote, Labour is wooing the parental vote and the Liberal Democrats will be wooing first time buyers at the peak of the housing market.

I just wonder who will be wooing those of us in work, renting and without children who will be paying for all these benefits?

Pensioner wealth redistribution

There is a very good article over at Stumbling & Mumbling weighing up the pros and cons of supporting pensioners through additional taxes on the those working. Certainly food for thought. Holiday cruise companies are not building cruise liners for the X-generation!!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Liberal Democrat Taxation Policies

Fewer electoral policies can surely be more selfish than the "Vote for us and we will improve your services but someone else will pay" particularly when that someone else as a group of individuals will be outvoted!! Well, that's the Liberal Democrat's latest taxation policies in a nutshell. If people want more services collectively, they should be expected to pay for it collectively, not expect a minority of people to subsidise them always!!

Railway Station closures

Some railway news that most British taxpayers should welcome. Action is being taken to close underused railway stations in the West Midlands to start reducing the £5 billion (!) annual taxpayer subsidy to the railways. To quote The Times, "At Norton Bridge, typically only one person boarded each train. Even at Stone, the best-used of the five stations, each of the 18 daily trains picked up an average of just four passengers."

Hopefully, railway stations in other areas will also be pruned back. It will also make rail travel quicker for other users of course as there will be fewer stops!!