Sunday, 31 October 2010

Down with this sort of thing Pt II

The Vodafone protest is the best protest of the decade. End of.

1) It has a nice, clear, recognisable well-defined target - Vodafone
2) It has a nice, clear, easy to understand and readily achieveable objective – getting Vodafone to pay up what’s claimed to be its real £6bn tax bill
3) It is neatly linked into the current political-economic situation – Vodafone paying this supposed tax bill will reduce the pressure to cut public spending
4) It has a clear and motivational moral imperative – fairness
5) It has potentially much broader ramifications such as the tax law surrounding all this and associated processes would be/are open to potential scrutiny, other companies may be reassessed, the links between big PLCs and the political process/politicians (e.g. the anti-file sharing legislation rushed thru parliament shortly after Peter Mandelson met David Geffen in Corfu), etc.,

Because of all this it won’t get the same coverage as say the US Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and will probably fade away quite soon. This is for various reasons including it’s too practical and dull, it cuts through the political process and associated media superstructure, there's no need for any self-serving pseudo-psephological “analysis”, it lacks any ultimately dumb big ideals for liberals to cheer about and there are no headline grabbing personalities involved either. Plus Vodafone's corporate communications department will be working their guts out to kill the story.

Ideally, what's needed is for Simon Cowell to get involved on the protestors behalf, mebbe even Jordan or worse case scenario the percussionist from Radiohead, anyone but Billy Bragg basically. Except they won’t.

Nov 5th P.S. - seeing as its Guy Fawkes night and all that says about burning effigies and bastards more generally it was interesting to listen to the ace File on 4 programme about tax dodging PLCs, which made specific reference to Vodafone stating "Vodafone agreed a £1.2 billion tax settlement for Luxembourg
and related tax disputes dating back fifteen years. That’s a lot of money but it’s a billion pounds less than Vodafone had provided for in its accounts"
, that provision signalling the potential bill could have been higher than what was eventually paid if not quite £6bn or whatever. Of course prudence (for which read caution) would dictate sticking a big number in the accounts, so the £1bn extra is no more than indicative, but even so.

Was also interesting to read about people being done by police for protesting outside a Vodafone shop in Brighton on the grounds that their refusal to leave constituted a threat to "public disorder and intimidation", i.e. they were presumably successfully stopping people buying mobile phones from Vodafone.

So a big PLC would seem to have successfully bilked us all out of however many millions of pounds and in return taxpayer funded police arrest taxpayers for complaining about it?

Dec 9th P.S. Brilliant!!!!!!! I was totally wrong. So sure on Saturday there the BBC didn't even name the "organisation" behind it in its initial reports about the latest Vodafone protests, but allova sudden what's now called UK Uncut is actually gathering a head of steam, geting some rather lovely attention on radio 4's today programme and there's a new mass protest planned for Dec 18th. Last shopping day before Christmas and sales are going to be blocked at arcadia and vodafone stores. Utterly, utterly brilliant and the best political development of the decade.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Evil croissants

The quango cull reminded me of croissants, that and the limitations of democracy as practised in Britain. Listening to Francis Maude pretend it was about re-establishing democratic accountability in Britain this morning on radio 4 as opposed to the cutting out wasteful inefficiency it was originally presented as I thought what a fanny. Besides the obvious realisation by the ConDems that they ain’t gonna save much money there’s the self-inflicted wounds it inflicts; politics is oiled by patronage, quangos or at least a seat on the board of a quango and the associated however many grand a year dished out for spending a coupla hours a month pontificating gave politicians a fabulous resource with which to reward friends and neighbours. Cull too many quangos and all that patronage gravy goes bye bye.

‘fessing up to that would allow politicians to claim they were above board, on the level and all that kinda jazz, except doing so would be to admit the role patronage plays in the political process, which they won’t. So instead it looks like a stupid mistake unless of course the transfer of responsibilities to organisations for which politicians have direct responsibility is actually going to happen and make a difference, which brings us back to croissants.

One day one of the major supermarket chains conducted an experiment. They did some nice straight forward labelling, which assigned traffic light ratings to the contents of different types of croissant. Sales of the croissant that had lots of red lights on it fell. Sales of the croissant with more green and amber traffic lights increased. The end. Except it wasn’t, the supermarkets subsequently campaigned vigorously against the Food Standards Agency (a different FSA) making the traffic lighting of food according to its sugar, fat, salt content etc., a legal obligation. The supermarkets won so instead we have all this shite about RDAs and this and that and what not i.e. an overly complicated system no one really understands or can be arsed with so largely ignores.

This is a bad thing. Pleb morons don’t care cos they believe they have the right to eat shite food. Middle income liberals are too busy wanking over farmer’s market organic cheese to notice while fat, fat fatties have glandular issues and big bones that mean they have to eat hunners of choccie biccies and avoid any exercise. But, on balance and on average, a straightforward traffic light system would probably see some incremental shifts in what people eat and put pressure on supermarkets to tell the manufacturers that supply them to change their contents in favour of less obesity inducing stuff. Except, that would cost money and possibly sales, hence their vigorous and successful opposition to the FSA’s efforts and the associated constraints this indicates big business lobbying places on the democratic process as practised in Britain with public health being sacrificed to private profits.

So now that another FSA is being “substantially reformed” will we see a more independent approach being taken by government to the issue of food content labelling? It’d be good if we did and it’s a nice litmus test as to the benefits of the quango cull that’s in keeping with Francis Maude’s claims. In the meantime the soon to be defunct Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the purchase of Wines sounds like the best quango to be a part of ever, I can even think of a fabulous person who should have a seat on its board.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tit and Tory boy pt.II

When your boss has to go and defend what you’ve done you know you’ve fucked up big time, so it’s fun hearing and watching David Cameron trying to smooth things over by wanking on about the need for tough and difficult and tough and fair and difficult and tough decisions. But, WOW what a fuck up the child benefit thingy is.

Aside from the tough/difficult rhetoric, the main response I’ve heard concerned an appeal to practical snobbery – basing it on household rather than individual incomes would involve a horrendous bureaucratic process (true) and also involve means testing. Now its fun to hear a politician say "means testing" in this age of the “targeted” benefit, but isn’t that kinda what the family and working tax credit processes already involve?

I’d have thought an easier approach, a pragmatic one even would have been to automatically exclude all those on £44k+, but allow them to submit a claim if their total household income was below a certain level; that way the rank unfairness of the current proposals wherein households with an income in excess of £80k can get a benefit households with a £44k income can’t would be addressed. Plus, as benefits not paid to auld yins prove, there will always be penty of people who don't claim.

But, WOW what a political fuck-up all the same given the Tory fascination with the nuclear family and notions of mums staying at home to raise the kids, but getting the shafteroo cos hubby is a middle manager in a PLC. And WOW 2x given the Tory desire to appeal to the aspirational i.e. those who don’t earn £44k but aspire to and can see themselves doing so. And WOW 3x given the stupid fucks forgot about the origins of child benefit, which is that it was to provide a universal income to mothers, i.e. one devoid of the stigma attached to nearly all other benefits and grounded as much in feminist as it was statist thinking.

The backtracking going on right now about transferable married people’s allowances (noises rather than commitments) is amazing also given cutting one benefit, but increasing an allowance would limit any net benefit in terms of deficit reduction. But, that’s a tad to sensible, rather the Beeb will simply fixate on any notion of backtracking followed by a wank off over personalities cos that’s how politics and the economy are reported on here.

Which is a pity given this deficit is a finite thing isn’t it, like the Tories are taking all these tough/difficult decisions to address a one off problem whereas presumably the child benefit cut will be a permanent measure? How that work?

Perhaps on the basis that it plays straight into the US Democrat rhetoric Labour are currently wrapping themselves in of the squeezed middling sort, providing a wonderfully practical example of how the current cabinet of toffs just doesn’t get it.

Tits and Tory Boy

I could be a tit and quote myself from May this year so I will “it seems like middle income bods are gonnae get clobbered left, right and centre by various VAT,NI and income tax rises and freezes and also get excluded from as many benefits as possible e.g. no more from tax credits or nursery vouchers and say the end of unverisal child benefit and what not if household income is over 40 grand a year or something, the staggered introduction of all which will progressively knock thousands off people's disposable incomes and further ghetto-ise the benefit system”.

But, aside from my having crystal balls (it was bloody obvious), what's really, and I mean REALLY impressive is how dumb the child benefit proposals are. So that’s no child benefits for any family with at least one person earning over £44k? Seems fair enough I guess, except looking thru the following hypothetical households:

Single parent earns £44k, total household income, £44k = No benefit
Two parents: he earns £43k, she earns £43k, total household income £86k = Gets benefit
Two parents: he earns £44k, she earns £15k, total household income £59k = No benefit.

So it targets higher earners not higher income households, which doesn’t strike me as being especially fair (whether the legislation will be smart enough to pick up on same sex couples will be interesting also). And oh oh, I was a schmuck on the grounds I didn't think anyone was dumb enough to conflate individual earners with households.

Then there are the raw disincentives to work it creates. In this blessed age of flexible working a bog standard two income family debate is whether someone should cut their hours to spend more time with the kids. Whereas the economics of this originally took into account the earnings forgone vs child minding costs saved, now they will increasingly need to take into account the £1,752 p.a. in benefits foregone also.

To give a practical example if Mum A on £45k p.a. dropped to a four day week, her net salary after tax and national insurance would fall from £32,860 to £26,764, however, she would keep her child benefit and potentially save c.£1k p.a. on child care costs.

And yeah, yeah, pension contributions would also fall 20%, but so feckin what given pensions are going to be raped on a continuous basis for the next decade. I mean what’s 20% less of fuck all tomorrow compared to getting 20% of your working week back today? The other funny besides stuff like people losing out when they get a promotion and/or pay rise is the potential damage it’ll do to the tax take.

So whereas Mum A on £45k for a 5 day week coughs up £12,139 p.a. in tax and NI. Mum A working 4 days only pays £9,235 p.a. and keeps her £1,752 p.a. in benefit. So a measure intended to save £1,752 a head ends up costing £4,656, which kinda matters given it indicates only a significant minority of people need to follow Mum A’s lead for the fiscal benefits to be neutralised. Eligibility needs to be tapered or banded in some way. End of.

You could at this point be cynical and suggest that actually it’s all about reworking the relationship between the state and the citizen and weening more and more people off what had deliberately become a near-universal system. Except, that’s a pile of shite because means testing household rather than individual incomes would be both a fairer and more effective means of doing so. It also implies a greater degree of vision on the part of the government than they appear to possess. I originally thought poor Danny Alexander was wheeled round the TV studios a while back to ensure the LibDems got all the stick for Tory decisions. Rather than any Machiavellian shenanigans I’d now say the more likely explanation is George Osborne really is the fuckwit “flat tax”(??@*&?!?) Tory Boy shit stain he always came across as before the election, that and he probably wears purple buckets for a bra.