Tuesday, 27 March 2012

And So I'm Back, From Outer Space...

I'm not dead.

I've been away in deepest darkest Scotland for a couple of weeks and have had to watch budgetary developments et al from afar. I was hoping to be able to blog whilst up there but my wi-fi hopes were somewhat dashed when I produced a new fangled 'credit card' to pay for drinks in a pub and received a look as if I had try to pay with babies' limbs and fairy dust. They don't take plastic, the kind barman spat, suggesting those who wished to pay with this new found wizardry were not the sort who were welcome here. So I didn't bother asking for the wi-fi password.

So I find myself in the familiar territory of waterski-ing behind the news.

45p - Good start but a shame Osborne either didn't have the guts or the bargaining power to go the whole hog. And a shame it won't come into effect until next year (though you can see by giving people a year to defer earnings out of 50p towards 45p it should guarantee a bumper first year of 45p revenue thus 'proving' a point in 2014). It doesn't matter that it makes sense financially, it's bad news to go to 45p PR-wise. It will be bad news again PR-wise (though sensible and encouraging of growth and investment) to drop it to 40p, or indeed the Laffer curve's 38p optimum. It would have been better to get this PR out of the way in a oner (like removing a sticking plaster) 3 years before the election and let the real economics of the decision speak for themselves by election time in generated growth. No surprise the media or their political arm in Westminster are painting it as they are. Ignore and move on.

Granny tax - Old people have done fine from the Coalition - let's not get hung up on having a generous benefit reduced until it falls in line with everyone else. Yes there are poor and needy aged members of society, but not in much greater numbers than elsewhere across the spectrum. Conversely they are in general better off than average. Today's pensioners are the baby boomers. They have enjoyed the massive enrichment of the last 40 years, particularly in terms of home values. They rarely have mortgages and other outgoings are smaller with no small children etc. Time to take a bit of 'pain' and realign to the rest of society. Incidentally, nice to see some (thought the minority) understand this in letters pages across the media.

Child benefit - good to see an effort has been made to taper the issue of the cliff edge benefit drop. This deals with the only important problem - that of someone getting a pay rise which results in a net earnings loss after they become disqualified from child benefit. It doesn't, because it is too costly to do so, deal with the almost irrelevant 'problem' of envy. That is that people who earn £60,000 don't like the idea that they get nothing and 2 people earning £40,000 each still do. My advice: suck it up, big lad. I have banged on about what is 'fair' before in taxation etc. I am willing to say categorically than it is not unfair that if you earn £60,000, you don't get child benefit. Yes it would be nice, but the economy isn't built for that luxury. I find it pathetic that people are still complaining. All they are is upset that someone else got a bigger lolly.

Donorgate (which I assume it is already being called) - who gives a shit? Politicians cannot and should not live in bubbles. They are meant to be lobbied by the people they represent. This includes you, me and Richard Branson if he so wishes. Political parties need funding. They get this from people who think this will buy them influence and people who wish them well. Just like many big businesses will want to donate to Tories who are small Government people, Trades Unions will want to donate to Labour who are big Government people.

Why? They feel those parties better represent their interests. The idea is we get to decide if we like the policies people come up with - it's a democracy, we have elections. If we think our politicians are making bad decisions entirely based upon their donors' wishes, vote them out. I have no issue with who comes to tea with Dave - it's the policies he makes I care about. And whilst we're on the subject, perhaps is it a touch hypocritical of Labour to make a fuss over supposed influence of donors to Tories when their party has actual proven influence of donors? Largest donors to Labour? Trades Unions. Who essentially decided who leads the party - the Trades Unions.

That'll do for now.

Friday, 2 March 2012

This Isn't Just…Or Just Isn't

The weekend fast approaches and Mrs Law Abiding Citizen wants me to help make ice cream. So, alas, we don't have time for any heavy-hitting political journalism. If you've read any of my blog before you may only slightly unkindly think all my blogs must therefore similarly be composed on a Friday afternoon with the rush to make copy before Pimms o'clock, such is the lack of aforementioned political hard hits…

So onto one of life's small annoyances for me. Think of this as an early Saturday morning, more irrelevant than usual, blog. Today's Target? Marks and Sparks.

I probably use the motorway M&S shops more than their other larger stores. One can pick up some lovely lunchable snacks; sumptuous sandwiches, meaty chicken legs, spicy chilli prawns, healthy edamame salads or pretty little bowls of sun dried tomatoes with mozzarella. You know the stuff - delightful snacks that make you want to eat your daily calorie intake in a series of '2 for £5' tid bits. These are the trademark of these M&S stop and shops. It's not just a scotch egg from the Esso service station's fridge, next to the porn and the motor oil. No, this is a Marks and Spencer scotch egg.

There are too small buckets of flap jacks or chocolate muffins, or some deliciously lazy pre-prepared, stick-it-in-the-oven-for-25 minutes, gourmet meals for 2. All these things are very good. I get why M&S suggests you should defer to their version of them all over any other brand on the market. Similarly, I suppose, Waitrose do some excellent own brand stuff. You'd always prefer an M&S or Waitrose pre-prepared evening meal for two over Birdseye's effort. You'd probably prefer an M&S sausage roll to a Ginsters one.

But their coke is shit. Total shit.

I get the 'everything in here is Marks & Spencer' thing, but it only works as long as what you produce is better than what is available elsewhere on the market. The Coca Cola Company have been perfecting Coke (to use the vernacular) for over 125 years. They're good. I mean really good. Though recently their market share has slipped (to about 53%), they still kick the crap out of Pepsi which is the only brand that has ever got close to it. In short, they know what they are doing.

Sainsbury don't. Tesco don't. Virgin didn't. That's why their versions of coke all tasted like crap. But it is a lesson M&S refuse to learn. They sacrifice offering the complete, one-stop-shop on the altar of "this is Marks & Spencer-dom". It's not just coke. They won't sell you Evian either, just some own brand water. Now this stuff may actually be better but it doesn't make me feel like a better person like water imported from France filtered through the knickers of a dozen French maids does (that may not be the exact process Evian use, but a man can dream). Or Haribo which is much better than their stupid Porky Pig things. But Coke is the one that really pisses me off.

And so after filling up on almost anything I could want to consume from M&S, I am still consigned to visiting WHSmith as well at each service station for a proper can of coke. This isn't just brand-loyal stubbornness, this is Marks & Spencer brand-loyal stubbornness...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

(They Want to) Live in a House, a Very Big House in the Country...

This will be a quick one as I've already spelled out my thought on this subject before (here and most particularly here). You may have noticed yesterday an article about a particularly large family wanting "a bigger house in the countryside". I found a snippet in the Torygraph, but unsurprisingly the Daily Hate Mail also covered it among others.

Have a read (here) - it's genuinely astounding.

Two things here. First off, council houses or those which one rents and pays for with housing benefit should be sanitary. This is perhaps not true of the house in question. I don't, nor should any sane person, think families should live in squalor. People deserve to be put in safe housing, just not palaces. Thought I'd park that before I get onto the main point. Which is…


I find the idea genuinely incredible that you can just keep squeezing out kids and demand someone else pays for them. Amazing. We are such a sodding soft touch. If you think I'm being mean cast your eyes over these stats:

£12,000 family income from paid work (the boyfriend and perhaps father to some or all children)
£30,000 in benefits and allowances (albeit including disability allowance for an epileptic child which will and should go untouched under new reforms)
9 children, 10th arriving in 6 months

So, that's an income of £42,000. What do they do with it - let's ask mum…

"Money is not tight; we survive well on what we have. As soon as we come back from our summer holiday, we start putting money away for Christmas"

Brilliant. Of course my and your taxes should pay for summer holidays for super-sized families. That's what welfare is for - enough to get by, as long as by 'get by' you mean go on fucking holidays and have a sodding massive collection of toys (see pics with Hate Mail link).

What does mum think about the situation? "I want a bigger house with somewhere for the kids to play; somewhere with a garden. This house isn't big enough for us." Well stop having fucking kids you can't fucking afford you feckless scrounger. I think we'd all like a bigger house but some of us in this country still think you have to earn them. And having a functioning uterus is not 'earning'.

We as a society perpetuate this ridiculous situation. Because there will always be support for people like this there is no disincentive. It's like giving aid to India's poor children because its Government prefers to have a space programme than deal with its widespread poverty. As long as you take care of the essentials, you teach people they don't need to. What is required is tough love. Unfortunately the problem is only getting worse and the world is getting poorer per capita with an increasing population.

A robust welfare and social services system might be deeply unpopular (or the lefty media would portray it as if it was unpopular in the eyes of all - like the generally supported welfare cap) but make total sense. You cap benefits and say crack on. Have as many kids as you like, but we're only paying up to a certain amount. As mum says "it's not about getting more money; if we didn't cope we wouldn't have kids". Or more to the point, I will keep having kids because I will always be able to cope due to the ever increasing handouts correlative to children produced...

The ability to have children is not a blank cheque. You will have to share rooms - most people did as children at some point and don't consider they were in 'poverty'. You'll probably have to cut down on holidays, or shock, horror, not go on holiday. That's your choice. Kids are expensive. If you want more, earn more, like the rest of us. If it gets to the point where you cannot support your children on your capped income, they get taken away from you. The children do not suffer.

Remaining in a house of such negativity and greed will cause them to suffer far more. Odds on most of those children will be jobless for most or all of their lives. They will mimic the life they have seen their parents have and society accept (I appreciate the boyfriend does have a job which is certainly better than the situation in many totally workless houses in similar situations). That is unfortunately the way it goes - check your stats; worklessness breeds worklessness. Patronising them just perpetuates the cycle and reinforces it as a viable way of life. Society has to change. This has to be an unacceptable way of living, as it was viewed not 50 years ago. How did we come to this?