Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en Hater

I never know what you are supposed to say on Hallowe'en. "Happy Hallowe'en" doesn't seem right. "Have a scary Hallowe'en" seems more apt. But, to be honest, I don't really care. I've never got into all the hullabaloo that surrounds the event, especially nowadays.

Without wishing to sound like a grumpy old man but then going on to do exactly that; I see the whole affair as an over hyped Americanism.

But now I have children old enough to trick or treat, I can't very well deny them the opportunity of going around other peoples houses to beg for food.

Still, the idea of demanding treats with menaces is troubling. The trick element is now, thankfully, an empty threat, although you do still hear the odd story of kids damaging property or posting unmentionables through the letter box when no treats are forthcoming. It comes to something when the same kind of harassment meted out to suspected paedophiles by local vigilantes is seen as appropriate for people who simply refuse to act as a free tuck shop once a year.

And walking round the neighbourhood asking for sweets from, mostly, complete strangers doesn't strike me as a sensible or particularly safe way for children to spend their time either. But as long as the children are accompanied by a responsible adult there shouldn't be much risk for them.

My biggest problem with Hallowe'en trick or treating is when you get a sulk* of older teenagers knocking at your door. What in their unwashed world do they expect to receive as a treat? Most households would be stocked up to supply lollipops and penny sweets but I can't imagine these would satisfy the average modern teenager. That's why I make sure I've got plenty of fags, PSPs, cider and aerosol cans (for graffiti and inhaling), just in case a sulk* or two turns up.

I feel better for this rant.

I'm almost 40 years old. Expect much more of this kind of thing.

* I assume "sulk" is the correct collective noun for a group of teenagers

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Really Nasty Party

As they continue to lose the main political arguments facing the country today, the leftists' bitterness grows and grows.

You have to feel for them. They are desperately trying to deny their complete and utter irrelevance to the needs of a country their statist ideology has brought to its knees. So, instead of engaging in a sensible debate about the way forward for Britain, which would require some degree of honest reflection on their role in creating the mess, they are reduced to pathetic name calling and offensive caricaturisation of government policy.

First the delusional Polly Toynbee calls the coalition's housing benefit cap proposal the "final solution for the poor" as if restricting those receiving the benefit to the average level of income for a working person is comparable to the attempted systematic murder of a whole race of people.

Then, as if to show that Labour aren't just highly offensive in their delusional state but utterly pathetic as well, Harriet Harman (ex political correctness ultra Equalities Minister who was dedicated to helping minority groups) describes red headed Danny Alexander as a "Ginger rodent". Nice. In doing so insults all red heads.

God knows the poor copper headed sun dodgers* have enough on their plate without this kind of prejudiced insult.

* I am allowed to insult red heads as I married one, one of my children is one and a significant proportion of my facial hair (when allowed to grow) is that hue.

Great response from Danny Alexander:

@dannyalexander: I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind. Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour.

He shows himself to be a more gracious and humorous person than sad old Hattie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Euro Billions

Cameron is right to resist the European parliament's demand for a 6% hike in European funding. He clearly wanted a freeze or cut, but it seems that is not a possibility.

Some suggest he should refuse to pay but, sadly and especially since the Labour government ratification of the Lisbon treaty, this is not a realistic position to take. We are reduced to fighting for the least worst outcome.

There was an interesting graphic in The Times yesterday illustrating where our money goes in Europe.

It's episodes like this, a funding boost at a time of austerity for member states, that shows just how long over due it is to have a serious look at what the EU is good for and where it should withdraw and leave individual countries to run their own affairs. It would be worth checking how your Euro MEP voted on the budget increase proposal. It's hard to believe the European Parliament's decision to ask for a 6% increase is a democratic reflection of public opinion.

Cameron should be lobbying for future cuts in budgets, especially given our own austerity measures are yet to bite. But, as his government is doing at home, those cuts should be allied with serious reform so public confidence can be restored in the EU and people can start to feel they get value for money.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Look At The Size of My Gun

It seems that there is an upsurge in white segregation in South Africa. As depressing as the story is the picture they used to illustrate it was amusing...

Big guns for men with big hands and their disinterested sons.

The Great Fairness Debate

The reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) has been nothing if not wholly predictable. Leftists popping up all over the shop to denounce the cuts as savage, regressive and unfair. But what does constitute fairness?

Matthew Parris writes on the subject in The Times yesterday (behind a pay wall). He makes the point that fairness is more than some arithmetic calculation of who loses most or whether the cuts are "progressive" or not...

"The essential point about the word “fair” is that it doesn’t add anything to words like “right”, “just”, “reasonable” or “ought”. “Fair” doesn’t (contrary to what the IFS assumes) imply a number, a quantity, a mathematical relationship between two different portions. It doesn’t (contrary to what the Labour Party thinks) imply equality: of outcome, opportunity, pain, gain, or anything else. When a speaker says “fair” he appeals to his hearer’s sense of what people do or don’t deserve.
Without this sense of deserving, any analysis of mere numbers is sterile. The raw, unprocessed arithmetic of financial gain or loss makes no impact on the moral imagination of the public unless illustrated by real cases of real groups about whom we may have an opinion — I stress: opinion — on each group’s moral claim on welfare. Accountants’ formulae for deeming cuts “progressive” or “regressive” are counterfeit, unless weighted by moral judgment.

A crude example: many people would think that, in a queue for an expensive lung operation, it would be “unfair” to put a penniless, jobless and incorrigible chain-smoker ahead of a hard-working young mother who had never smoked — although on the IFS calculation the decision would be “progressive” because it redistributes income from a richer citizen to a poorer one."

This is an important point and, as Parris suggests in his article, not one the coalition is making very effectively. The debate needs to move on from the "progressive" / "reactive" terms, that the left have managed to keep the focus on for decades, and start thinking about what truly is "fair".

The coalition has made a rod for its back by insisting on referring to its plans to reign in Labour's budget overspend as being "progressive". This term means, to most people, that the rich pay more (not just in absolute terms but proportionately) than the poor. Surely, that is fair?

Redistribution of wealth is not, in of itself, fair. Taking from the "haves" and giving to the "have nots" may have a Robin Hoodesque romantic appeal but it doesn't follow that it is fair in all circumstances. When choosing what to cut and what to spare the Chancellor had to made many individual decisions on what was fair and what wasn't.

This is where we see the fundamental difference between the Tory and Labour approach to fairness. Leftists think the main objective should be to redistribute wealth from the better off to the poor. Thus they hope to alleviate poverty and create a more equal society. This, they tell us, is "progressive". For them it would be enough to be able to prove statistically that they were taking more from the better off than the worse off. That's fairness in their book.

Osborne's starting point was more specific; that it wasn't fair to run up unsustainable debt levels for our children's generation to pay off at great expense. In truth Labour already had, but his point is still valid. We should not continue to grow that debt level by continuing to spend more than we can afford for years and years to come. Remember, all the government is proposing is to stop adding to the national debt, they're not planning on paying any of it back before the end of this Parliament at least.

From there the Chancellor had to make a number of fairness judgements. Inevitably these judgements are influenced by the values of the people making them (which, these being politicians who want to be reelected, in turn are influenced by the broad consensus in the country). Matthew Parris describes the kind of judgements he would make and they clearly tally with the Chancellors'...

"Here are mine; and I wouldn’t trouble you with them if I wasn’t convinced they are shared by tens of millions in our country.
I say it isn’t “fair”, if you’re only on an average wage, to have something approaching half your earnings confiscated through income, council, excise, fuel and spending taxes, and redistributed, even though it was your efforts that earned the money.

It isn’t “fair” that people housed by the State at your expense should be given homes for life, rather than only for so long as they cannot afford to pay market rates.

It isn’t “fair” — from the viewpoint of those who would expect their own grown-up children to rent a room if they lacked the funds to buy a house — that a person assessed as being in housing need, once he passes the age of 25, gets a right to a home of his own rather than just a place in shared accommodation.

It isn’t “fair” that the benefits system provides an incentive to jobless people with a medical condition to claim, and stay on, incapacity living allowance, even if they have a partner in work who can support them; and it isn’t “fair” that the costs and numbers of such claimants have swelled so enormously in recent years, without any evidence that the nation has become more ill or disabled.

It isn’t “fair” that workers in the public sector — whose jobs have been safer and whose salaries have risen faster than those in the private sector — should enjoy pension provisions so much more generous than what the rest of the country gets, paid for partly from the taxes of people in less secure jobs with inferior pension rights.

In every one of the five examples I’ve just cited, I’d bet that a shift in resources away from the recipients of state welfare would be seen by a majority in Britain as “fair”. But any fiscal calculation of the “progressive” versus “regressive” effect of the shift would conclude that the cut was “regressive”."

So, fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. To my eyes the CSR has got it about right. There will be a lot more controversy to come as the details pan out over time. Hopefully the coalition can get their fairness narrative sorted before long, otherwise they'll struggle to convince people to accept the pain being inflicted.

And when you hear those leftist politicians, celebrities and journalists berating the government for their actions it would be worth remembering the glee with which many of them welcomed the recession The First Post reminds us. Follow the link and have read if you time. They were happy to accept hard times for the poor, as long as it was framed in anti-consumption, environmentalist terms.

Further to the progressive/fairness debate, I see Guido has an excellent post on the same subject that is worth a read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Champaign Socialism Is Alive And Well

While the coalition starts taking an axe to universal benefits that go to the needy and well off alike, it's good to see Lord Scandelson making sure he gets what's rightfully his, albeit from the EU this time.

Ex EU commissioners can claim a "transition allowance" that is intended to make up for the sudden loss of earnings once they leave post. Fair enough, you probably aren't thinking, but God knows, most of them are fairly unemployable in any normal job (Neil Kinnock was one, for example).

It should come as no surprise that the ex-trade commissioner, Mandelson, is making sure he squeezes every last drop of sauce out of the European high greed gravy train. From the Sunday Times...

Lord Mandelson has channelled fees and royalties from his autobiography into a private company, enabling him to qualify for up to half his former salary as a European commissioner two years after leaving the job.

His book royalties and speaking engagement fees (estimated at £350,000) are paid to Willbury, his firm. This enables him to claim up to £104,000 a year, intended to cushion former commissioners while they look for new work.

This “transitional allowance” is withdrawn if yearly earnings exceed £208,000. The commission must be informed of new activities generating personal income, including the publication of books.

Mandelson is thought to have earned £350,000 from his book, The Third Man, yet is still entitled to the allowance until October 2011. By paying his earnings into a company of which he is a director, he can tell Brussels he has no other private income.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Student Loan Compromise

I've just read that the Government is close announcing they've agreed on one of the most contentious policies between the Tory and LibDem coalition partners - student tuition fees and student loans.

It seems likely that they have settled on a "progressive graduate contribution" - a loan repayment scheme that increases in proportion if the graduate succeeds in earning more than average. The idea being that those students that earn less will end up not having to pay back as much as higher earners.

The agreement, and the likely recommendation from the Lord Browne review (due to be published on Tuesday), is that the tuition fee cap will raise from £3,290 to £7,000. This will be a major issue for the LibDems whose manifesto promised no tuition fee increase, but the hope is that the progressive nature of the new loan payback plan will satisfy their concerns.

For my part I'm happier with this idea than Cable's graduate tax but still not convinced it is completely sensible.

The tuition fee does not have to be paid upfront, it goes towards the amount owed after the course is finished. So, there's no upfront cost to make each potential student think deeply about whether or not they are really committed to achieving a good degree or, indeed, if it's the right thing for them and their aspirations. I'd like to see a modest initial fee, payable within the first year, that would really focus the mind of a student. It would discourage some from going to University, but I think we need to move away from the idea that the more Uni educated people the better. It should be about quality, not quantity.

Then there's the "progressive" element of the proposal. Once graduated, there'll be a real disincentive to succeed. Although it's not clear what the exact figures will be, it seems that higher earners will pay a bigger percentage of interest on their loans than lower earners. Those that end up
forging ahead with their careers will be penalised for no other reason than they dared to succeed. Those that aren't so bothered, or worse, only went to Uni to avoid work for a few extra years, will earn less and will not be expected to pay back as much. Some will say that it's only fair that the better paid pay more, but they do anyway - in taxes. They earn more so they pay more. There's no justification for making them pay more for their loans.

There's no easy answer. But I'd have preferred to see a system that encourages young people to make the right choices for their aspirations and abilities while encouraging ambition and a drive to succeed once graduated. This proposal looks like a political compromise and it doesn't seem to do either.

We'll have to wait to see the actual details of the proposal. There could be a lot more to it than we're seeing in the latest leaks. I certainly hope there is.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Have The Censors Gone Too Far...

...Harmless fun from the chaps (I imagine they were all chaps) at Diesel Jeans with a little help, it seems, from Disney.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quote Of The Weekend

William Hague on the first day of the Tory party conference:

The last Labour government was "a government that raised taxes 178 times, raided the pension funds, sold the gold, and borrowed more than all previous governments put together, but still managed to leave more people on welfare, school and health inequalities wider, severe poverty growing and poor communities suffering most from crime"

It's No Tax and Spend For Ed Miliband

It's not really a new story but the Sunday Times is reporting on Ed Miliband's utter hypocrisy in his exploitation of property tax loopholes. The article is hidden behind a pay wall, of course, but here's a link if you have access: Ed Miliband nets fortune with tax ruses.

Personally, I've not got a problem with him limiting the amount of money the state taxes his father's estate. The issue is "Red Ed's" attack on those who have done the same kind of thing in avoiding tax in his speech last week.

As I say, this is not a new story. It flared up last during the Labour leadership election when Ed M's camp threw mud at his older brother, accusing him of benefiting from exactly the sort of tax loop hole he himself benefited from. See Paul Waugh's piece in the Evening Standard.

What does this tell us about "Red Ed" Miliband? Probably not a lot more than we either knew or suspected about him in the first place. He's not the only leftist high profile figure to exhibit hypocrtical behaviour. Fellow leadership candidate, Diane Abbott sent her son to a private school despite wanting to deny the same opportunities to others. Harriet Harman did the same thing and Tony Blair sent his sons across London to a Grant Maintained school. Labour was opposed to running schools in such a way and proceeded to abolish them, thus denying others of the advantages. It wasn't long until he realised this was a mistake and reintroduced the idea in the form of Academies, so perhaps he can be forgiven? Labour's attack on Lord Ashcroft for being a non-dom was the height of hypocrisy as they had many non-dom financial supporters themselves, some in the Lords (you'll remember that a hefty donation to Labour bought one a peerage not so long ago).

I could go on. The point is, Ed Miliband will really struggle to portray himself as a break with the past. Especially the bits of the past that people most came to hate Labour for; the hypocrisy, lies and spin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Explosive Propaganda

You have to wonder about the how tuned into the real world some green activists are.

I'm not a climate change sceptic, I believe there's a real problem out there and if there's any chance my actions are making matters worse and threatening the quality of life of my children and (future, I hope) grandchildren, then I'm keen to do what I can.

However, recently the case for global warming has been undermined by a few, more exuberant proponents, who have attempted to answer tricky questions, not by cool, thoughtful analysis and explanation but by issuing, sometimes, misleading propaganda.

I can understand the frustration of having to respond to the more fanciful conspiracy theorists. But some of the questions are valid and deserve attention and research to help understand what the correct course of action is to combat the problem. I'd propose ignoring the conspiracy theorists and entering into a calm dialogue with the constructive doubters, using scientifically proven evidence to back up the argument. But, all to often it seems that we get this kind of thing...

What do they think this will achieve? Anybody with any doubts about global warming aren't going to change their opinion on the back of watching this. They're more likely to have their suspicions about the credibility of the case for climate change confirmed - that it's all propaganda from over-zealous greens, celebs and leftists.

I see this is being portrayed as an attempt to get maximum publicity for the 10:10 campaign. The idea being all publicity is good publicity. But this will not convince a single doubter to do their bit and reduce their carbon emissions. Only those already committed to the cause will see the funny side.

Not Richard Curtis' finest work. It's shit actually.

After viewing it again I've come to the conclusion this video could work if the only person blown up was Jemima (the schoolgirl, whose family have been using their car less and she's going to cycle to school). She really does deserve it.