Archive for June 2012

A new Battle of Bannockburn

Saturday last was the 698th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and if it hadn’t been for my spotting of a piece of bureaucratic stupidity the day would have passed by completely unnoticed by this particular Sassenach.

For the last 80 years, nationalistic Scots have been commemorating the anniversary with various activities including a procession through the town to the site of the battlefield. Those taking part in the march are generally dressed in costume (either medieval or Jacobite) and carry a mixture of swords, axes, daggers and shields.

This year however Stirling council decreed that no weapons could be carried because of some apparent minor trouble last year:

However, following reports of an “incident” at last year’s march, where a car on the route was allegedly hit with a shield and a Union Flag was burned, Stirling Council ordered those taking part to lay down their arms, saying no weapons would be allowed to be carried during the march, even if they were safely sheathed in a scabbard.

A burnt flag and a damaged car? Obviously the sensible thing would have been to prosecute the individual(s) who participated in the property damage, ignore the flag burning and forget the whole business. However these are bureaucrats we’re talking about so sensible doesn’t come into it and instead they reached for rule one of the public sector law and order playbook: collective punishment.

Unsurprisingly this didn’t go down very well with those organising the march, especially as

Scots law allows Shetlanders to dress up as Vikings each year and march through the town armed with battleaxes during the Up Helly Aa festival, while Scots are allowed to carry the sgian dubh knife.

Ooops!

As expected the council tried to justify their decision with some weasel words:

A Stirling Council spokeswoman said: “Stirling Council respect the rights of organisations and individuals to celebrate their history and cultural traditions.

“But we also need to balance this with the rights of the general public to go about their daily lives safely and with minimal inconvenience.”

Oh look, some tripe about ‘respecting rights’ followed by a recourse to that old favourite: public safety. All copied and pasted right out of the government PR handbook for dealing with uppity members of the public.

The public however weren’t going to let this stand and some behind the scenes lobbying of both Stirling Council and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) later a compromise was reached:

The National Trust for Scotland, who manage the battlefield, confirmed a compromise to allow weapons to be carried during the ceremony inside the heritage site – but not during the march.

An NTS spokeswoman said: “People bringing swords and other weapons will be allowed to keep them in their cars and take them out when they arrive at the battlefield.

“After the ceremony, they will have to put them away again if they want to go back into Stirling.”

In the end there were two marches:

for the purposes of clarity.. this year there will be TWO marches.
The first one.. which the SRSM [Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, Ed] have organised will be a NON weapons bearing event.. and will be assembling from the 1314 inn at 13:30 hrs

The second one, fopr those bearing weapons, sorted out by Garaidh Stiùbhart of the society of William Wallace will be assembling in the Bannockburn Heritage Centre carp park at 13:30 hrs.

Both marches will rendezvous at the rotunda for the commemoration!!!

I thing we can call that a partial win for the public but now that the council has tried this once, it is a fight which I expect will be repeated annually for a while yet.

A quick thought on illness, employment and holiday

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) have, in their infinite wisdom, ruled that employees who are sick whilst on annual leave can reclaim from their employers the holiday affected.

As this is an ECJ judgement, the UK is obliged to do something about it and the government has said that it will implement the change from October.

The obvious next step therefore is for someone to start trying to claim for days off because of illnesses which occur during weekends (or whenever their weekly rest days are). Ill on Sunday? Take Monday off…

Cynicism aside, I am happy to accept this on one condition: if employees fall ill during non-holiday time, their employer should have the right to reclaim the equivalent amount of holiday time from them in order to make up for this.

Fair’s fair after all…

Murphy’s law

Richard Murphy, the former tax account and practising tax avoider whose Damascene conversion to the idea of ‘tax justice’ means that he now spends his time pontificating that tax avoidance is immoral and should be illegal, has apparently decided that, against all logic, the time has come to open a new front in his never ending campaign:

That’s right, because something isn’t codified in law it can’t – in Murphyworld – be legal.

Sorry Ritchie but in this country we follow something called ‘Common Law’. You may have heard of it. The general principle is everything is legal unless it has specifically been legislated against.

If you want a legal code in which anything which hasn’t been declared legal is automatically deemed to be illegal then can I suggest you move to mainland Europe and live under the Napoleonic Code?

A small bit of common sense

The private company masquerading as a public body which is the Advertising Standards Authority has ‘ruled’ that those who are campaigning to keep marriage as it is should freely be allowed to advertise:

We noted the complainants believed that [the] ads … were offensive as they considered them to be homophobic.

However, the ads focused on the current legal definition of marriage and its history.

We considered that, although some people might disagree with the advertisers’ opinions on the matter of same sex marriage, the ads in themselves did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Well that’s jolly nice of them to say so but quite frankly the whole business has been unnecessary and they should have told those few wannabe Stazi fools who complained in the first place to run along.

The enemy has another face

Cllr John Butcher, Conservative, Surrey County Councillor

Meet Councillor John Butcher, a Conservative member of Surrey County Council and the latest little Hitler to emerge from the cesspit which the health fascists inhabit.

Cllr Butcher believes that if you live in Surrey and you fall ill with something which could be related to smoking, drinking, drug use or excessive weight you should be treated as a second class citizen by the NHS – pushed to the back of the queue in favour of the ‘more virtuous’.

Such a policy would, he believes, encourage people who fall into the ‘unworthy’ camp out of the county, reducing the burden on Surrey NHS.

If the NHS in Surrey were to be run on the basis that patients with self-inflicted morbidity (mainly – smoking, alcohol, narcotics, obesity) and injury (dangerous activities) are, following due warning, placed in a much slower-moving queue for healthcare than ‘other’ patients, this would encourage the self-inflicted to move away from Surrey, to areas where there is no differentiation between patients on the grounds of their contribution towards their condition.

“And it would deter the self-inflicted from coming to live in Surrey. Over time, that would result in the healthcare for the ‘other’ patients in Surrey being significantly better than the average national level for all patients, as the resources deployed to the self-inflicted would be very much reduced.

“Eventually the self-inflicted patients would end up living in ‘equality’ areas that are dominated by politicians who pander to their needs, thus driving more ‘other’ patients out of those areas, as healthcare there will be badly affected by the over-dominance of the self-inflicted.

“Eventually the country will be sharply divided into two types of area: the ‘equality’ ones, where the self-inflicted unhealthy are treated the same as all patients, and the ‘others’, such as, hopefully, Surrey.

“Average life expectancy will be substantially lower (by, say, 20 years) in the ‘equality’ areas.”

A few thoughts immediately spring to mind:

  1. As a general rule, the older people are, the more use they tend to make of the NHS as their bodies break down. The biggest of these costs will be cancers and dementia/Alzheimer’s.
  2. By dying at younger age, heavy smokers, drinkers, drug users and the terminally obese usually end up being net contributors to the system via taxes paid.
  3. Those who can afford private healthcare – or who have it via their employer – will use this to bypass the NHS bureaucracy and thus avoid the slow-queue. Get enough people doing this and private healthcare in Surrey will become a growth market.

With this in mind, I’m not sure Cllr Butcher will get quite the result he was looking for when he started his spleen vent.

But wait, there is more. Given the opportunity to defend his lunacy, he makes the most of it and plants his other foot right in next to the first one.

Firstly, he doesn’t think his proposals should apply to the addicted:

I need to make it clear that, under my proposals, a condition would not be regarded as ‘self-inflicted’ if the patient is unable to prevent the condition, as is the case with an addict, even if he or she was able to have done that before addiction set in.

Which rather leaves those of us who enjoy our vices in moderate-to-heavy doses but don’t need them as a crutch squarely in the firing line…

Still, he isn’t finished yet:

3 Alcohol and narcotics abuse also need to be tackled with other policies, that are aimed at prevention and discouragement. There is, generally in society, an amazing level of toleration of such abuse, especially by persons in positions of public responsibility and influence. If sports can ban performance-enhancing drug use, then entertainment etc. should ban narcotics and alcohol abuse. By setting a firm example from the top, the message will soon get around that such abuse is unacceptable – with enormous benefits to society.

3.1 Everyone in, or aspiring to, a position of public responsibility and everyone in a position to influence the public, including entertainers etc, should be asked to sign a voluntary pledge not to take illegal narcotics or consume excessive alcohol, or drive when so affected.

3.2 Anyone who fails to sign that pledge, or who signs it and breaches it, should be excluded from positions of public responsibility and influence. All public organisations, included regulated broadcasters etc, should agree to impose this exclusion.

3.3 There would be a Trust to manage this pledge and to determine breaches, with a right of appeal. The costs of running it would be funded by fees from signatories, donations from philanthropists and a grant from the government – the grant being greatly exceeded by the savings in cost to the Exchequer, due to the substantial reduction in such abuse that will follow.

*boggles*

Sports ban performance-enhancing drugs because they create an unequal playing field, elevating one person above another not because of skill or stamina but because of chemical engineering. I’m not sure how you can think that narcotics and alcohol* consumption would be in any way performance-enhancing in fields which are not directly competitive.

He calls his proposal of a pledge to not overdo it a voluntary one, yet in the very next paragraph says that anyone who doesn’t sign it or who breaches it should be penalised by being banned from ‘positions of public responsibility and influence’. Obviously some policing this ‘voluntary’ pledge will be necessary so he proposes that this can be done by the formation of an organisation funded by theft, aka compulsory subscriptions, taxpayer money and ‘charitable’ donations. He doesn’t mention who the big white chief of this new quango should be but I’m willing I’d bet he’d have his eye on it should such a monstrosity ever come to pass.

In conclusion I can only assume that John Butcher is a brainwashed, non-smoking teetotaller who has never had a day of fun in his whole life which is why he appears to take so much pleasure in being a tediously boring and self-righteous control freak who, quite frankly, should just piss off and leave us all alone.

* Though there are no doubt a number of sportsmen and women out there who will claim that they play better after a drink or three. :)

Bill picking – results

The poll is closed and the results are in. By a clear margin (although falling just short of being the preference of 50% of respondants) the winner is #4:

Repeal of the European Communities Bill: Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. It has turned out to be an economic and political disaster. This Bill will get us out.

On his blog, Carswell outlines some of the problems the UK would have (assuming the bill was successful)*:

What sort of trade relationship would we then want with Europe and the wider world?

Given that Britain buys far more from the EU than the EU buys from us, we would be in a strong position to ensure open trade agreements. Because only those businesses looking to sell to the Single Market would need to comply with Single Market rules, a great deal of economic and commercial activity that had nothing to do with EU exports could automatically be exempted from accumulated EU red tape.

Even if Parliament and the people voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, our activist judges – whose role has been aggrandised by the Euro system – would be certain to challenge it. Europhile mandarins in Whitehall would do all they could to thwart any attempt to escape a system they helped bring into being.

We need to think through how best to face down the Europhile Establishment.

Which is all well and good but as I said on Friday I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding given the generally pro-EU membership stance of Cameron, Clegg and Milliband.

I’d love to be proved wrong though.

* And I assume that Richard and Helen will eventually comment on the matter and add links to posts where they have been discussed the potential issues down the years.

Jubilee thoughts

The long weekend is over, the party done with and the bunting can go back in the box until the Platinum Jubilee/King Charles III’s coronation – whichever is earlier.

Whilst I didn’t personally do anything to celebrate – painting walls and ceilings doesn’t count – and chose to avoid watching any of it on the tellybox with the exception of the concert, I’m well aware that plenty of people had a good time at parties. Others watched the flotilla from the banks of the Thames in typical British Bank holiday weather and yet more filled The Mall to watch the concert on Monday evening. It seems that those who did something had a good time and I’m not going to rain on their parades.

Generally though the whole thing passed me by – mostly through lack of interest rather than because of any particularly strong feelings on the matter.

From the outside, the Monarchy seems to be a gilded cage – and thus not something I would envy those born into it or those who choose to marry into it. I imagine that it can be a thankless job at times, especially when you are attacked in the media by politicians, comedians and various lobbying groups who know that you are unable to publicly retaliate.

With the current Monarch it is easy though to forget that when she was born she was but the eldest child of the second in line to the throne – easily displaced by a younger brother should her parents have had one or any issue from her uncle, the then heir. If her uncle hadn’t abdicated it is probable that she would have spent her life as a minor royal, with much the same status as her sister’s children have today.

As for the so-called cost, this doesn’t bother me as the ‘public’ money to fund the family (with the exception of the heir to the throne and their family) comes from the Crown Estates* which is a property portfolio owned by the Crown but whose revenue is surrendered to the Treasury. In return an annual grant known as the Civil List is paid. This will change come 2013 when the Civil List is replaced by the Sovereign Grant, the size of which is initially set at 15% of the profits made by the Crown Estate. This is expected to be about £34m in the first year, estimating the size of the Estate at approximately £227m. I make that a profit to the government of almost £200m.

Say though that the Monarchy in this country does come to an end. How would we fulfil the role of Head of State instead?

If we are to stick to the tried and tested model as used in many other countries then this means a President. But which type? Do we take the American** model where the elected Head of Government is also the Head of State or the Irish** model where the elected Head of State is a constitutional figurehead?

Say we take the first approach. Do we elect someone above the Prime Minister or do we simply make the PM the Head of State? For the former a constitutional upheaval to split out the executive from the legislature would appear to be needed. With regard to the latter, it must be remembered that we do not elect a Head of Government but rather the leader of the largest party is invited to try and form a government. If this isn’t possible, others may also be asked and if a government falls or a PM resigns an election is not always necessary. The hullabaloo in some quarters which surrounded the appointment of Brown as PM showed that this has either been forgotten or that it will not be tolerated any more. Imagine then if that happened for a Head of State, not just a Head of Government? Add to this the thought of (depending on your political allegiances) President Thatcher, President Blair, President Brown or President Cameron… ***

What then about the second approach? The political class would no doubt try to fill the position with their own people but given the general disgust with which they are held in this country the turnout would undoubtably be small. The other option would be a non-political figure but with the way the British public is at present I’d suspect we’d end up with either David Beckham or a dancing dog…

With all of that in mind, am I a Republican or a Monarchist? Given the choice I think I’ll stick with the latter. That doesn’t mean that I think that the Monarchy is the greatest thing since sliced bread but rather that the current alternatives – as I see them – are likely to be worse.

* With a further income from the Duchy of Lancaster. The heir and their family are supported via the Duchy of Cornwall.

** Obviously there are other examples of both.

*** Note, I’m not an constitutional lawyer and am approaching this purely from what little understanding I do have. Feel free to shoot me down.

Gruniad accounting #fail

Given that the Gruniad’s parent company has demonstrated in previous years how to make themselves as tax efficient s possible, it might be expected by now that some of their skill in reading a balance sheet might have passed down to the reporters of said organ.

It seems though that such knowledge transfer isn’t taking place if today’s attempt to do a hatchet job on Lycamobile is anything to go by.

So, what has Lycamobile done to deserve the hairdryer treatment?

A mobile phone company that has paid no corporation tax for three years has become the Conservatives’ most generous corporate donor after giving more than £300,000 over the last nine months, new figures show.

The latest available figures show the company did not pay any tax between 2008 and 2010, despite generating a turnover of between £47m and £88m.

Now those with half a brain cell will already be screaming that turnover isn’t profit and you’d be correct – but the Gruniad article is written to fulfil an agenda and nowhere in the piece is the actual profit/loss mentioned.

So what are the relevant figures* (2011 numbers were not available)?

Year Turnover (£m) Profit (£m)
2009 47.90 -10.91
2010 88.04 -6.86

And now we know why Lycamobile paid no corporation tax in 2010 and 2011.

*I’d link to my source but a) it is my employer and b) it is behind an expensive paywall so you’ll have to take my word for it or go googling.

As the disclaimer says…

…the value of your investment may go down as well as up.

At Royal Bank of Scotland’s AGM on May 30th, the chairman Sir Philip Hampton told investors:

I don’t believe that shareholders’ wealth is likely to be restored any time in my lifetime or some lifetimes beyond.

Which is surely the point? They invested in a bank whose management made some appalling judgement calls, didn’t keep a close enough eye on what the board where up to and saw the value of their investments destroyed.

Last time I checked we called that capitalism. The only reason that RBS shares have some negligible value left is that the previous government interfered with the natural process and kept the bank afloat with money stolen from the tax-payer.

No, I wasn’t an RBS shareholder until the government of the day decided to make me one. The only shares I own in the financial sector are in fellow bank Barclays (BARC) and the overwhelming majority of those are as a result of BARC’s takeover of Woolwich many moons back. My Woolwich shares came about because I was a saver with them at the time they floated. Thus my stake in BARC is almost pure profit.

Bill picking

The results of the Private Members’ Bill ballot for the current session of parliament were announced on 17th May.

The 20th name out of the (figurative) hat was that of Douglas Carswell, erstwhile tory rebel and libertarian. Rather than immediately introducing a bill about a pet hobby horse or, worse, allowing himself to be used as a tame pet by the whips and/or a lobbying organisation, Carswell has taken the novel approach of drawing up a shortlist and letting the public choose.

The options are:

  1. Bloggers Freedom Bill: the law on copyright and libel developed in an age when very few people ever published anything. Today, millions of people blog and tweet. The law needs to reflect this. While other people’s intellectual property needs to be safeguarded, and people need protection from libel, this law would provide bloggers and tweeters with some protection against being sued, with a 48 hour period of grace before legal action could be taken.
  2. Defence Procurement Bill: too much of the defence budget is spent in the interests of big defence contractors, and not in the interests of our armed forces. This Bill would make it a legal requirement to put most defence contracts out to public tender, and prevent those who have worked for the Ministry of Defence from working for defence contractors without clear safeguards.
  3. Great Repeal Bill: there are too many rules and regulations. The government’s Freedom Bill, which promised to do something about it, has turned out to be pretty useless. Instead, the Great Repeal Bill – the world’s first Wiki-Bill – would repeal a vast swathe of unnecessary red tape. The details of the Bill are here.
  4. Repeal of the European Communities Bill: Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. It has turned out to be an economic and political disaster. This Bill will get us out.
  5. Competing Currencies Bill: having struggled to save the Pound, this Bill will save the value of the Pound. It will prevent ministers debauching our currency to help pay their debts. While the idea of competing currencies is not new, the internet – which allows different currencies to be used seamlessly – is, making it practically possible. Translations of the Bill will be available in Greek, Spanish and perhaps even French.

The poll is taking place over at Guido’s so take another look at the list, pick your favourite and vote (if you so want).

For myself I like the sound of all of them but my priorities would lie towards numbers 3 and 4 – and of those two #4 seems, to me anyway, to be of greater importance.

I also note with interest that John Hemming was the 6th MP out. Given his dislike of super-injunctions and the secrecy of the Family Courts and the Court of Protection his bill could be one to watch.

Disclaimer: The rules of the game are such that the earlier a name was drawn the better the chance that his or her bill will at least get a cursory listen – and only then if the whips on either side of the house don’t sabotage it. The odds therefore are that whatever bill Douglas does present to the house will get shot down in flames or be deliberately talked out.