Saturday, 21 May 2011

To Claim or Not to Claim? IPSA - I Probably Shouldn't Actually

I am rejuvenated after just watching the ever-stirring Sound of Music. You can't beat a bit of do-re-mi, some evil Nazis and nuns with automotive know-how on a Saturday morning. Christopher Plummer and his Von Trapp Family Singers have inspired me to get blogging, though on an utterly unrelated subject.

With the continuation of the Government's policy drives taking up most of the headlines not otherwise engaged in discussing world political instability or carefully not quite repeating the names of various rich people who may or may not have done naughty things, the reform of MPs' expenses system has rather faded into the background. Certainly there was a bit of newsprint used up on the various jailings of formerly (Parliamentarily) privileged politicians, but the new system and MPs' attempts to change it have very much slipped under the radar.

Elliot Morley became the latest to be imprisoned for quite blatant theft or fraud, whichever definition rings your bell. However, with these cases even still going on, and surely therefore even in the most optimistic MP's mind, the trust of the people still very much absent from the lower chamber, our representatives are already trying to chip away at the new rules; these new rules which they all happily proclaimed were long overdue, and every one of them really really wanted to install and just hadn't got around to it (whilst grabbing money in a manner more befitting an "underwear model" trying to sell her footballer-related sexploits to the tabloids).

I find the concept of MPs demanding their regulatory body change its rules ludicrous. How can IPSA be independent if MPs who are meant to be regulated by it can set their own rules - quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Now whether or not IPSA listen, I find it staggering that MPs already have the effrontery, nay temerity, to make such demands when they should still be in sackcloth. It is as if they feel those who still have their seats and their freedom have weathered the storm and can resume business as usual. What happened to the remorse that was poured out to anyone who would listen when expenses scandal dominated the news?

The letter sent to IPSA in February by Tory MP Adam Afriyie certainly brought up the correct point of cost of IPSA (which I'll move onto in a second), but the tone is laughable. It essentially boiled down to a threat that if IPSA did not rewrite the rules, relaxing in particular the notorious second home allowance and other apparently stringent regulations, some 300 MP signatories would move to amend the law from which IPSA derives its authority. Who do they think they are?

The other point that is genuinely incredible is the cost of the set-up of an 'office' to run an expenses system for fewer than 700 employees. Even discounting the £1 million plus spent on investigating MPs' expenses (how on earth did they manage that?), IPSA cost well north of £6 million just to start. Now, call me a cynic but I think there may have been some pretty creative accountancy there, and some unrequired costs.

First off, for set-up costs I imagine the offices of the House of Commons fees office, now-defunct, would probably work. We could probably use their desks too. And their chairs. And staplers. And filing cabinets. And pens. Hell, we could probably use some of the same staff, after all, the only thing you need to do is write a proper set of rules and apply them. Unless we think the previous body were corrupt and not just bound by laughable rules, there are few problems there. Companies do it day in day out, for a fraction of the cost. They manage somehow to work out that the office telephone bill and an ink cartridge for the office printer are claimable from company monies and a new ride-on mower for the CEO's back garden is probably not.

I tell you what, I'll run IPSA, and for a damn sight less than £700 per diem that Prof Sir Ian Kennedy gets to chair the whole shabang. So, all in all, a bit of a mess really. Can't say I'm at all impressed by IPSA or the behaviour of a vast number of MPs over all of this. Costs must be brought under control - these people have become far too comfortable with the kind of numbers involved here. Maybe if IPSA could run its house properly, MPs might have to spend some of their own money, and that in turn might help them realise its value. Perhaps that is the silver lining from the whole thing. A night on the airbed in the office, having to (shock, horror) buy your own food and pay your own mortgage might expose our MPs to a little bit of real life. Maybe in return they will think a little harder before spending our money, either on themselves or their policies.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Huhne's Been a Naughty Boy Then? And Other Assorted Stories...

Right then, still no time to post properly so I'll do a quick run through of a couple of items in the news at the moment...

I can't help but be very amused at Chris Huhne's situation. Not because I think he's getting what he deserves because he may or may not have broken the law, but because he has been desperately irritating of late and on an unrelated point, has Lego hair. His grandstanding over the AV referendum and attempt to paint himself as the Liberal attack dog have irked me. I'm not sure what a liberal attack dog looks like, presumably something along the lines of a really quite miffed chihuahua.

One can understand his not wanting to get banned from driving, and the fact that one could find oneself in such a position after 4 relatively minor offences in 3 years (35 mph or that marginal 'is it amber or will it turn red exactly as I cross the line?' aren't desperately criminal) is risible. Still, rules are rules, and nor hell a fury like a woman scorn'd.

The next barking bit in the media has been the 'sack Ken Clarke bandwagon', as driven by the press and jumped onto by Ed Miniband (as sure a sign as there is that you are on the wrong vehicle going the wrong way). I can only assume there was no real news over the last day or two - no brutal suppression of popular uprisings around the world to report on. Now his words weren't ideally chosen but any fool could see he wasn't saying some rape isn't "serious". He was simply pointing out that there are different levels of the crime as defined in UK law, for which there are indeed already varying scales.

Whilst accepting that all forms are of course wrong, stating that a brutal and violent rape with a weapon should be regarded as more serious than that of a non violent rape, or further statutory rape seems only logical. It is not condoning one type or diminishing its impact or importance, but applying the rule of proportionality to different crimes as is done every day by our courts. That we can all get so het up over an unfortunate choice of words that did not represent best what everyone knew to be the essence of what was being said, rather than actually debate real topics is rather disappointing. Not surprising though.

I can't say I'm wild about enshrining into law a mandatory percentage of the budget to give in aid. Whilst accepting that as Dave says, we have a duty to the poorer nations even when struggling ourselves, there should be the ability to keep more money in the leaner times like any household would do. It isn't punishing poor countries to reduce aid in straightened times - it's charity, sometimes you can't afford to be as generous but it is all still giving.

There seems to be a rush not just to sign up to every good cause on the planet (think global carbon emissions) but also to volunteer to fine ourselves or lay ourselves open to prosecution for falling short. I get that proponents will say 'if it isn't law, there's nothing to stop them going back on their promises'. It is just that they are wrong. They are called elections. The other point on our aid programme, as I have made before (here), is we aren't too great at picking out who to give money to and how it gets spent (China, India).

So, more to come when I have a moment. MPs and their expenses are on the way and I think I shall have to drop some injunction-based gags into my human rights piece before it sees the light of day, but we're nearly there. For now though, that's all folks.

And start using my voting buttons below. It makes me think you care. It's like having friends. I imagine.

Friday, 13 May 2011

A Liberal Dose of Taxation?

Well I certainly have to start with an apology. Been a long time since I posted and indeed a while longer since I posted with any regularity. No doubt both my dutiful readers, in an effort to find similar levels of mental stimulation, have returned to watching paint dry or with the advent of summer are perhaps out in the garden watching grass grow. Why? New job, long hours and I suppose also the fact that the news cycle has been repeating itself very much over the last month. Thus, whilst things are still gripping me, they seem to be pretty much the same things I have already written about.

So what to post about? I am nearly there with my human rights follow up as it has reared its ugly head in the press recently, but that may have to wait until next week, time permitting. I suppose I could write about super-injunctions, but then, I think that's the point, so I can't. I could reiterate the point that most commentators are happily ignoring that, crap though they are, the Coalition plans for student fees are progressive and by virtue of everything being paid back only when one is in work and when one can afford to, only taxes the rich graduate, not the poor applicant. One such fool was Baroness Kennedy of Mansfield College, Oxford on Any Questions this evening, who was either shockingly ignorant of the policies or deliberately misrepresented them. I could write smugly about winning the AV vote (not personally, you understand, but as Terry Leahy says, "every little helps"). However, I'm quite happy with the fact that the crap idea of AV has just gone away now, so think that best left alone. I am not, however, leaving it alone because I feel the need to buoy up the Conservatives' Coalition partners after a pretty shoddy few weeks.

Yes, now I think of it, I think that as got me riled enough to fall upon as my target for today. Why, oh why, is it accepted wisdom that the Tories should start bending over backwards for the Lib Dems, "shoring up" the embattled Nick Clegg and generally making them feel a bit better about themselves after they had their first taste of what taking decisions as opposed to taking the moral high ground, and hang the practicalities is like? My that was a long sentence. I like those. You may have noticed. Short ones can be fun too, though. Occasionally.

The leverage in the partnership is very firmly in the Tories' court, to horribly mangle metaphors. They did rather well in local elections for a governing party making cuts in a harsh economic climate; surely far better than they thought they would. Not only have they not lost much ground to Labour, but they have gained crucial support back from the Lib Dems. This was vital as one of the largest reasons the Tories failed to win a majority was the number of seats taken from them by Lib Dem votes, not Labour ones. They have also very easily won the AV vote. It has been a pretty good couple of weeks for them, in fact.

As some shrewd political commentator or other mentioned recently, a large number of Lib Dem voters vote for them exactly because they are unelectable; a protest vote. That vote no longer makes sense when they are in power, so they lose a great deal of support. Also they were always going to cop an enormous amount of flak from the largest demographic who support them; the dreamers who love the idea of Lib Dem policies but aren't too fussy over doing the maths. They simply cannot understand why or how the Lib Dems could be doing so many un-Lib Dem things. The reason, of course, is that the Lib Dems in Government realised that you might have to compromise your abstract principles when faced with the reality of Government.

So why the rush to help the Lib Dems? They are fixed for 5 years in this Parliament, and bound to the Coalition agreement. They would neither dare renege on the Coalition deal nor depose Nick Clegg. Who is waiting in the wings? Chris Huhne? Now that's a political joke. Certainly not Vince Cable. Danny Alexander would be a fool to run and David Laws is currently incommunicado. In short, the Tories are in the driving seat, and the Lib Dems have lost their leverage. They are still bound to deliver their Commons votes on Coalition Agreement, but cannot threaten to take their votes in the plebiscite away - that support has evaporated.

So please let us see no Lib Dem freebies. Most importantly of those, I hope the Chancellor ignores the idiotic rebranding of Vince Cable's ludicrous "mansion tax". The increasingly worrying Cable is blowing the trumpet of fairness again. Yes, it is his view the rich should "pay their fair share". As I have said before, nobody is willing to actually put a number on "fair", because they know they are already taking a disgusting amount from them in comparison to almost any world economic power. They always forget to mention how much they already pay in tax, what they do for the economy, and how little most take from public spending. Yes, fairness, the banner under which you can apparently justify theft.

The mansion tax policy is abhorrent. It is a tax on an asset - what people choose to spend their hard-earned post-tax money on. The Government has no right to this money (like it has no right to levy inheritance tax). It is totally unfair that someone who chooses to buy an expensive house with their taxed money be taxed on it more than they already are. There is already the dubious stamp duty, and council tax that somehow links size of house to how much you should pay for identical services, used or otherwise from local Government. Someone of the same earnings could buy many smaller homes, overseas homes, gamble it all away, snort it all, or burn it all. The state should, according to Vince, differentiate between the two of these identically rich people because one put their money in a property.

It isn't about "they can afford it" and not just because many people with large homes are cash poor and couldn't, but about the concept which is morally wrong. What is even more ridiculous is that Cable thinks that he is in a position of power whereby he can demand a swap - the dropping of the 50p rate (which has caused UK tax revenues to drop as businesses fled to more tax-friendly countries) for an introduction of his disgusting policy. The 50p rate needs to go, and if the Business Secretary can't see that it is an enormous barrier in front of the sign the Coalition wishes to hang stating "Britain, open for business", perhaps it is time for him to go too. Perhaps it has been so long since the Tories were on top they don't know how to deal with winning. There's being magnanimous in victory and there's handing back the prize to the losers. One can only hope Dave, George et al know where the line is.

MPs expenses next methinks…