Saturday, 30 October 2010

Hard Politics - Village Parking

Yes, another very hard nosed topic of conversation (with myself) again this Saturday. Who makes the rules on village parking? Some people in our village have pretty "No Parking" signs attached tastefully onto the front of their houses. I understand why - there is no pavement so the cars are right outside their front windows. So, the signs afford them a touch of privacy and also the ease of transport from car to door.

We have a hedge. I tried painting "No Parking" on it but the leaves all fell off when Autumn came. It seems that people consider the unmarked road in front of our house fair game. I understand why - there are no road markings anywhere in the village. So, I'm just struggling with why there's a difference between the two. Is it because I have a front garden? Or is it because I don't have the cojones to hammer a free standing sign into the ground in front of the hedge?

We parked in front of one of these signs in the first few weeks in the house. Within 24 hours we had first a polite note asking us not to park in front of the house in question. This was followed by a visit from the owner explaining that there was no parking in front of her house, or her neighbours'. It was lost on her that there were no spaces in front of our house because all the other cars park there due to the lack of prohibitive signage.

So what's the deal? Have I missed a section in the Highway Code? Can one declare parts of the road their own? Can anyone do it? I only ask because I feel I would like to be part of the road-owning club and thus have sole parking rights to my adjacent tarmac. Or else I want everywhere to be free. In essence, can I be in their club? If not, I don't want them to have a club. At least can someone tell me the rules?

The Most Expensive Decision You Ever Make

Now I'm willing to admit that there are some people who live in a slightly different financial world to the rest of us. For them, the purchase of a superyacht, a diamond encrusted Bentley, or a small private island might actually be the most expensive decision they ever make. For the rest of us proles though, the most expensive decision you ever make is to have a child.

Now one might think that it is actually buying a house - of course there are some very expensive houses about - but we're going to deal with averages. The average house price is about 170k. Roughly speaking, the cost of raising a child to 21 is 200k. So, that means to the average man in the street, the decision to have a child is the most expensive one he can make, and that's just for one. That is of course, as long as he's planning on paying for that child.

Yes, inevitably and rather obviously this post is going to focus on children and the state's role in funding them.

My better half and I do ok on the earning front. We won't buy a private island, but neither will we receive child benefits. We've worked out that as long as work continues to provide promotions and according remuneration we might just be able to afford two children. It'll be tough, but to give our children the best, that's all we can afford. It may sound detached and material, to consider affordability of children as we would a house or a new car. However, that is the stark reality - children cost an enormous amount of money.

For a large number of people, much of that money comes from the Government. From the budget. From your taxes. From your schools and hospitals. From your armed forces. Should there be a Chinese style limit on children? Of course not. Should there be a financial test for parenthood? Of course not. What of the people on permanent welfare with 6, 8, 10 children? Does this make it right to keep on reproducing knowing you will be sending the bills directly to John Q Taxpayer?

The argument the left will always fall back on is that one has the right to have children. What do I think? Yup, you do. The crux is that perhaps the state isn't obliged to pay for it all. If I can only afford two children that I will pay for, why should my taxes pay for someone else to have 10? Your rights, and what is right are two very different things…


Why Bother if Someone Else Can Say it Better...

Please read Big Jeff's piece for the Telegraph last Friday (here). Only just got around to posting it…

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Politics of Class Envy 2: Social Experiment on Housing Benefits

The Conservatives stand accused of social engineering by forcing poorer families out of expensive areas by cutting the amount of benefit available to a still staggering £20,000 per annum. The argument is that this will create rich only areas and all the poorer off will have to retreat to other parts of the country. This is turning the idea of social engineering on its head.

If people on housing benefits are forced, like people not on housing benefits, to live where they can afford, that is by definition a free market based on supply, demand and affordability. To insist there must be poorer representation in the demographic of richer areas by providing taxpayer money to fund homes the recipients would not otherwise be able to afford, is the very definition of social engineering.

It is unfortunately typical of Labour's intrusive attitude towards Government. They think nothing of social engineering - it was at the core of New Labour's ethos and Miliband Minor will likely be no different. However, releasing the UK from this false and unaffordable society programme is unsurprisingly being met by the left as an attack on the lower classes. Yet again it is the politics of class envy where they will harp on about giving poorer families the opportunities of these richer people who pay for ther own houses. Unfortunately, as usual, they have no idea of the big picture and would continue to press a programme on Britain where those who are given benefits will be able to live a better life on those alone than those receiving nothing could dream of. This leapfrogging effect is profoundly wrong.

If you disagree, take a straw poll of your friends and family. Find out how many people can afford to spend £20,000 per annum on rent or mortgage. Not many - and they all have to find that money post-tax. Does it still seem ungenerous to give this away?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Some Are More Equal Than Others

Housing benefit is to be capped circa £400 a week. That is, the contribution that the Government (the taxpayer) will put towards rent for people qualifying for this benefit will only now be about £1600 a month. Scandalous. Apparently. According to Red Ed and that whining, carp-faced pillock Simon Hughes amongst others.

The idea that poorer families might have to move out of high income areas is "tantamount to social cleansing", we are told. People will have to choose where they live now on the basis of what they can afford. Holy shit! Sound familiar, oh yes, that's what people not on housing benefits do anyway.

The oblivious, self righteous arrogance, nay temerity of these socio-economic dunderheads (Miliband, Hughes et al) is quite unbelievable. I'm all for helping the poorest and neediest. I'm not, though, all for handing them a far better life than people who are working their cotton socks off could ever dream of. Not only is it economically unviable, it is morally wrong.

Why should someone have the right to live in an area they can't afford? I can't afford to live in Mayfair. Can I have a top-up? Most people would probably like to live somewhere better than they do, but they have to make grown-up decisions about it because they pay the bill. Supposedly because they don't pay the bill, it is unfair to housing benefit recipients for them to not be able to live in houses vastly out of their wage bracket.

This doesn't just stop at houses. People apparently have 'rights' to telephones, cable tv, yearly overseas holidays, you name it. Yet many people with all these things, the things even our parents, let alone grandparents would call luxuries are still claiming benefits because they need them for their essentials. It is not everyone, but it's a massive share of them - ask a social worker or a policeman how many council houses they have visited that are without flat screen tvs. The welfare state started spiralling out of control the day Britain decided it is ok to pay for your own luxuries because the state will pick up the rest.

So, let's not get too upset for the displaced people of SW6 when they have to move out of houses that most people couldn't afford.

On the Offensive

I read with my typical inner fury yet utter lack of surprise about British museums removing mummies, skulls and other ex-people on display due to protests. It may not surprise my reader (yes, probably still singular - thank you, mother) that this has got me a little irritated.

It appears museums are worried about offending various minority groups who hold religious beliefs regarding the putting on show of human remains. This particular case is not incredibly close to my heart, but generally symptomatic of a wider problem malevolently pervading society.

Why on earth do we have to listen to the Pagan Organisation Honouring the Ancient Dead and then act on their whims? When did we go from a tolerant society who accepted and respected other people's views and beliefs, and their right to have them, however different from the norm they may be, to one who go out of their way to make sure the abnormal, the minority are to shape all and sundry even at the expense of the views and beliefs of the normal, the majority?

The point is, what is accepted as custom is part of the backbone of a society. It differs vastly from country to country, less so from region to region, lesser still from town to town; you get the idea. Custom and law are the embodiment or reflection of the belief structure of a civilisation. Cows are sacred in Hindu society. They aren't big into McDonalds in the Hindu parts of the Indian subcontinent. Cows aren't sacred in Christian society. Predominantly Christian America tends to like McDonalds - that's why they're all fat. Chacun à son goût.

The point I am drawing towards like an obese American towards a Big Mac, is that we're ok in the UK with mummies and skulls. Not on the bus, or in kindergarten, but in the places you'd expect them to be -science labs at school and museums. They are there to teach, for children to learn, they are important in biology, history, anthropology and so on. Likewise, if you wanted a greasy fry up you'd probably head to a café. There you would expect a rather bacony and sausagey smell. Fine, it is after all a café - you probably wouldn't want that in a library or Bray's Fat Duck, but it has its place in our society. But what of the people who don't like mummies and bacon?

If you didn't want to see the skulls or the mummies, don't go to the museum.

If you don't like the smell of bacon, don't live next to a café.

A society is not intolerant or regressive if it generally upholds things that are acceptable to the mainstream of it, but might offend or displease a minority. Norms define a society. Ours - Britain - is fine with mummies and bacon. One should not sniff at accepted norms - it's where laws come from, like everyone in general deciding indiscriminate murder is probably wrong. I don't advocate going out of your way to upset a minority view, but it is clear the scale of underdoggism has tipped too far by half. Where would it ever stop? If I set up the Organisation for the Liberation of Tarmacadam, should we go back to earthen highways lest the other 60 million people in Britain might upset me by stepping on my beloved and downtrodden tarmac?

It has to stop. Britons have to remember who they are. They have to stop being so 'politically correct'. Half the barking genuflections to minority views aren't even asked for by said minority. It is as if we are still apologising for the Empire and the best way we can think of doing that is constantly being really really nice and letting everyone know that we love everyone and everything not British or normal in British custom. Problem is, we are forgetting we need to love ourselves a little too, lest we forget who we actually are. I like Britain. I do. But sometimes it really gets on my tits.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Council House Jackpot

I read yesterday about the proposed amendments to the running of the council house system. It all makes lots of sense to me. I am simply waiting for the idiotic Lib Dem and Labour backlash.

Why do we have social housing? For those who cannot afford to buy or rent living space. Super. Key words: "those who cannot afford".

As it stands, if you were once poor enough to qualify for a council house, the Government assumes you will always be. A little patronising, but not my main point. If you needed a family home because you had 3 children, the Government assumes you will always have 3 children living with you.

The first of the 2 main changes is to be (for new applicants only) 5 or 10 year 'leases' for want to a better word rather than life-long leases. At the end of your lease, you get re-evaluated to see if you could afford to contribute more (for we all have to contribute - there should be no free rides), or less (situations can easily get worse than better), or have no need for social housing.

Situation 1: The means and requirements test reveals no change in circumstances. A new 5/10 year lease is granted. Winners: Family - still supported to the degree required in terms of housing. State - fulfilling social obligations to poorer families.

Situation 2: The test reveals a worsening in circumstances (reduced pay for example). A new 5/10 year lease is granted at a lower percentage of market rental value. Winners: Family - as situation 1. State - as situation 1.

Situation 3: The test reveals an slight improvement in circumstances (increased pay for example). A new 5/10 year lease is granted at a higher rate. Winners: Family - as situation 1. State - as situation 1 and gains extra income for reinvestment in budget.

Situation 4: The test reveals a large improvement in circumstances (large increase in pay for example). No new lease is granted. Winners: State - gets a house back for the 5 million more needy currently on the social housing waiting list. A poorer family - a house is freed up and they move off the waiting list and into social housing.

The part that the lefty idealogues will harp on about is the 'evicted' family. If they can pay to live without social housing they should. The state is then able to give to someone more needy. Anyone disagreeing with that on the basis of not supporting the poor needs a lesson in basic logic and economics. That is the essence of social housing. It should never be an option to stay in a council house if one does not need to. It is not about a war on aspiration - you will be as well off out of social housing as in it, as the second you become ineligible you have become wealthy enough to afford to house yourself. That is the idea of the test; make sure only those who need it most get social housing. Not only is there a limit on how many people we can afford to house (5 million strong waiting list), we also morally should not be paying for people to live if they can do it themselves.

The second major change I will discuss is the size of the house relative to the number of inhabitants. Clearly there is great pathos evoked in asking a widowed 70 year old man to move from a 3 bedroom house he has lived in all his life to a 1 bedroom flat. However, we simply don't have enough houses to afford to be so generous as to leave him there. Go and ask the 3 child household on the waiting list if it is fair that they have nowhere suitable to live because of this generous grant to the widower. Also remember - new applicants only.

Welfare is about helping the neediest. Unfortunately there will always be people who will feel something is being unfairly taken from them when it is given to someone poorer. One hopes then for a modicum of understanding at least for the system which helped them no longer be the neediest.

Eyes Wide Shut

My partner and I went out for dinner last night. The food was sumptuous and the wine like nectar from Heaven. However, a recurring theme has irritated me over the last couple of years and it reared its ugly head again last night.

I certainly do not wish for someone standing in constant attendance at my tableside. I enjoy the privacy. I enjoy not being constantly badgered for my dessert wishes when all I want is to enjoy my wine and conversation. However, I do not think that means all staff have to walk head bowed through the restaurant.

It took me about 10 minutes to attract anyone's attention to ask for the bill. Just scan the eyes of the customers from time to time - it's all I ask. It rather puts me in a huff with the waitress if I have to part ignore my fellow diner for 10 minutes lest I miss her hourly 'look-up'. I can't imagine that's ideal economics for a tips-dependent employee.

Some people are rude to waitresses. I can understand some diffidence, but it is a service industry, and I'm not the Medusa.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Rubbish Bombs

A slightly more light-hearted Saturday morning rant...

There exists the rather annoying problem of not having anywhere to throw one's rubbish whilst travelling by rail based transport. Since the Victoria Station and Bishopsgate bombs of 1991 and 1993, bins have very much receded from public places and in particular from stations, and understandably so.

Clearly there is risk analysis to be conducted here, and indeed there are currently many hundreds of opaque bins on the streets of London, maybe thousands. There are still though, relatively few places to throw rubbish when at a station. I'd like to see more of the bin comprising clear plastic bags and a frame from which they can hang - the media via between would-be litterers and would-be bombers.

Not exactly high level blogging but they can't all be...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Manifesto Whine

As much as it amuses me to watch Simon Hughes squirm as Paxman points out his potential tuition fees U-turn and the upset it is causing in his party, I do feel some sympathy. I am getting rather bored with a familiar whine from apparently intelligent political editors, newsreaders and commentators.

What whine you ask? Well, you didn't but I shall tell you anyway: trotting out the "this wasn't in your manifesto so why are you doing it now" or the more blatant "you lied to us, shouldn't you say sorry?"

The problem is that people will start to compare these so called U-turns to the many committed by the previous Government. Making that confusion suggests the last and present Governments were in the same position of power to be able to act on their pledges - something a fair way wide of the mark. Unfortunately, that misses two rather huge points:

1. The manifestos of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were based on what they would do if they won a single party majority in the House (although a cynical commentator might suggest the latter manifesto was filled with vote-buying loveliness safe in the knowledge they'd never have to make the sums actually add up).

2. The only party with a definite idea of the state of the nation's finances is always the governing party.

So let us not pick on every point where Government policy differs from manifesto pledges. Firstly there always has to be a bit of latitude should the finances be as parlous as they turned out to be once the incoming Government get a real look at the books. Secondly, and more importantly, in a coalition there will have to be compromise on policy (or they'd be the same party). This will inevitably lead to one or both parties having to do something not in their manifesto, or go back on something that was in it. The parties in a hung Parliament have a mandate to form a coalition and govern in the national interest (Dave's new favourite phrase). They don't need to go back to the polls and ask if John Q. Taxpayer would mind if they changed a few things to make a coalition viable, so let's not pretend at every opportunity that they do.

Politics of Class Envy 1: Higher Education

So now we have decided that tuition fees are to rise. They are to leave an average student with a debt on graduation of £40k or more and that is if they live cheaply. There will of course be bursaries and grants for the poor. Where does this leave the country's aspiring 18 year olds?

The very rich (those whose parents could easily afford to send their children to private education) will still be able to afford university for their kids. Drop in the ocean. I'm going to approximate this household income at £150k pa for 1 child family and add £40k pa per additional child to keep them in this bracket. Remember £150k = £90k post tax and National Insurance for mortgage, food, clothes, holidays etc and then the fees and living costs of their children. I know the charges aren't up front but 40k debt for someone about to embark on 3 years of beans on toast living is pretty daunting. Knowing that you won't need a loan to cover the costs is massively important. The very rich will still be in this class.

The well off (who can just about afford to send their children to private education) will have to re-plan retirement as each child will now have to be paid for for a little longer. £100k pa per household with £30k pa per additional child. Of course, they could leave their children to run up eye-watering debts but no parent wants that.

The comfortable (who work hard, will never be millionaires, but have a good enough salary to allow a stay at home parent, probably rely on state education or academic-related bursaries for private education) are totally screwed. And I mean proper fucked. £60k pa and they haven't a hope of any grants, but if you think you can find 10k pa per child extra from a post taxed income of £40k pa for an entire household you're living in a parallel universe. The only way their kids go to uni is if they plan on earning less than £21k a year so avoid paying anything back, or gamble on saddling themselves with a £40k mortgage aged 18.

The poor (who have a low household wage, have had to rely on state education or means-tested or academic-related bursaries for private education) will hopefully be provided for by the state by means of grants etc. Those at the top end of this bracket though are still going to have to cover living costs and again gamble on being able to pay it back. Obviously as student debt is only ever paid back as a proportion of salary above a threshold, they won't have to worry about not being able to afford each month like a normal loan. However, anyone taking out these loans are going to be paying them back well into their 30s and 40s. If you're in that bracket now, imagine £500 per month extra going out of your account. Doesn't seem like such  a small price to pay now does it?

Clearly this is to segregate a society that has no obvious divisions with each section merging into the next, but I mean it as a broad assessment.

So our egalitarian society excludes the financial centre ground (politically termed the middle classes since by class these days all anyone means is income and assets). £100k, 3 kids, choose which is your favourite, the others are off to the job centre. £60k, 1 kid, remortgage the house and hope he/she comes through, £60k 3 kids, don't even think about it. I would have been unlikely to attend university under this policy. My parents were too well off for help but could never afford the exorbitant amounts required to now pursue higher education. It would have been down to me taking on an enormous debt - a big gamble for 18 year olds in a country struggling to educate the young in sensible fiscal policy. We now have a university fees policy that will guarantee a decline in standards due to financial rather than academic entry standards. Well bowled boys.

It may seem as if I am somewhat hypocritical here, complaining at spending cuts I have championed, but I understand why they are making them (to save money) but disagree with their methods. I have a better plan.

Labour, the party of politics by class envy, decided 50% of school leavers should attend university. Did they consult market leaders, employers or academia before making this oddly round number statement? Of course not, but why would they - this was the Government who coined soundbite politics - pick something short that even the tabloids can't misspell, use easy numbers and then explain it all by reference to outdated classist bigotry.

Graduate tax for those who enter lucrative jobs? It's called income tax. Non-pecuniary benefits of the higher-educated entering public service? Obvious.

Why do we pay for higher education? We don't pay for kids to go to Harrow, why do we pay for them to go to Cambridge? Because we expect something back from them. We send the higher academic minds to university so that we as a nation might profit from the development of their minds in higher education. Not sure everyone knows that, but that's why. They might become politicians, generals, poets, humanitarians, engineers, philosophers, religious ministers, or countless more. The point is, there are certain people who are suited to higher education - the expansion of the mind through academia. There are many, indeed most, who are not.

It is not that someone not intellectually gifted won't benefit at all from university, it actually comes down to cost. We cannot afford to put everyone through higher education, indeed clearly we now can't afford half of everyone. So we have to choose who we fund to go there.

I am crap at football. Always have been, always will be - just haven't the skill or physical prowess. It's genetics. My little sister would be a crap brickie because she couldn't carry a hod empty, let alone with bricks in it - tiny build. Genetics. So, I imagine we'd all agree the taxpayer shouldn't have to pay for extensive football coaching for me or bricklaying training for my sister. Not because they begrudge us the chance to improve in an area of weakness but because we have a finite amount of money and we aren't good investments. Neither of us have an issue with that.

But if you take Simple Simon and tell him academia isn't for him because he ain't built that way, you are elitist scum. No, instead tell him he isn't a good enough person until he's done a course at Nowhere Ex-Polytechnic in Underwater Basket Weaving, let him build up 3 years of debts and then let him loose in a job market he would have been better off joining 3 years earlier. Why? Because all those rich Tory bastards get that, so why shouldn't you? The politics of class envy. Thank God for Labour. We'll get onto this in more detail later.

So what is my alternate proposition to save the same amount? Simple. Instead of making the better courses at the better universities more expensive do the opposite. Spend a bit of money on the admissions system to make it academically fairer. Then charge the least to those who win places on academic merit (including potential for those I hear complaining of private school advantage in actual results - hence the money added to allow for interviews etc) at the best universities. Those who want then to study a degree that isn't going to help the country in the long run, pays for it themselves. So Underwater Basket Weaving at Nowhere Ex-Polytechnic would cost a lot. If you want to go - go for it - but the taxpayer isn't picking up the bill. It might sort out much of the issue with people coming out of university qualified for nothing but pub-crawling and debt-creating when those courses that produce them become less attractive.

The proliferation of pointless degrees at useless institutions has led to the devaluation of British higher education qualifications and the draining of the higher education budget. It's time we remembered who we want to go to university and why, rather than just doing the sums on the current intake and then looking at who are the easy targets to hit. If this policy comes to fruition it will be the ruin of British academia and one of the most backward social engineering projects ever embarked upon. Lots of points to pick up on later, but I fear this is getting on for thesis length, but probably not standard (well, maybe at Nowhere Ex-Poly)...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Welcome to Ocean Finance

The public seem to have forgotten that there is a teensy weensy issue with the country's finances. Nearly 11 million people voted for the Tories, who campaigned on cuts. Over 15 million voted for the other two main parties. Both of these, grudgingly admitted they would make cuts in office too (though didn't bother working out any real numbers as they were pretty sure they wouldn't be in charge when it all came to it). Now that's 26 odd million of only 30 million who voted, all voting for parties that knew cuts were necessary. It might seem I'm off on a tangent here with all these statistics, but I felt they were important. That is because I am struggling to hear anything above the din of people whining that they are the 'victims' of cuts.

It is incredible the brevity of attention spans of so much of this country. More has to be done to explain to a generation of people who genuinely think Ocean Finance is a good idea that continually spending more than you have is a pretty poor financial model. Whilst we're on it, I notice that Ocean Finance and similar criminal enterprises have advertisements on paid for TV channels in the middle of the day. Just a thought - if you have "more going out than we've got coming in", perhaps cancel the Sky subscription and get a job - could be a start.

There must be enough people out there who understand that if you want something and you don't have enough money, you either get less of it, a cheaper version, or raise more money for it. I'm sure most people would prefer to drink Cristal Champagne than Martini Asti Spumante. The fact that Tesco stocks the latter suggests to me that people know they can't afford the former and settle for the latter. Yet when it comes to the nation's finances, not spending more than we can afford is apparently now a crime with thousands of victims. 

The basic household budget analogy works perfectly, but most people I hear complaining about budget cuts in the CSR can't seem to transfer the household model to national finances. Do they want less money spent, or more taxes raised? Simple question - the money has to come from somewhere.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

No Cuts in My Back Yard

Now call me a cynic, but I thought the Conservatives all knew they were campaigning on spending cuts. Whilst one understands the political jockeying, I am getting rather bored by ministers predicting Armageddon should even the lightest of cuts waft in the general direction of their areas of responsibility.

I had rather hoped the Tories would have learnt from at least one of the many pitfalls of the previous administration and would not play out funding conversations in the press that should be held in camera. Certainly ministers have a responsibility to get the best deal for their departments, and should lobby the Prime Minister and Chancellor accordingly. However, trying to make the Government look like big, bad meanies whilst they are defending their department to their last breath might play well for individual politicians but it doesn't for the Government they serve in. It smacks rather of doing the Opposition's job for them.

The All Important First Post...

Here it is. I have done it. I am officially a blogger. I have joined the mainly anonymous ranks of people venting their frustrations, confessing their sins or simply letting the world know how training their cat is going. Why?

I think probably because when something annoys me enough, I tend to fire off a letter to the paper. To my knowledge nothing I have ever written has been deemed interesting/intelligent/polite enough to be published (which should probably put you off reading any further). However, the feeling of having written the letter is a pleasing one.

My uncle used to have a little gadget that lived on his dashboard called 'The Revenger'. It had a variety of buttons that played sound effects inside the car. From my hazy recollection there was a machine gun, a grenade, perhaps even a rocket launcher and I imagine a few more. When someone on the road irritated him, he would press one of the buttons. The point that I am lumbering as subtly as an elephant towards is that venting is good. In 'The Revenger' case, it doesn't matter if the person who has irritated you hears it or necessarily anyone hears it, just that you purge yourself of that irritation by expressing how you feel about it outwardly. This blog is my attempt to do just that of the many, various and often unfounded grievances I have in the hope I won't go crazy bottling them all up, or end up single because my better half doesn't want to hear about it any more.

Like a madman shouting at the sea, these are the rants and raves of a law abiding citizen.