Sunday, 31 October 2010

‘Tis the season for mucus and mucous

I was laid low for a second time last Thursday so I should be full of antibodies – nothing can overcome me now! On this occasion it was a nasty cold; the following day I went in only to feel crap sat at my desk. On balance it was the right thing to do as I got a bit of work done and I don’t think I was contagious, but I did wonder whether the cost to British business from people ‘taking a sickie’ - often estimated in the billions each year - might be matched by the cost of sick people coming into work when they should have stayed at home. I’m pretty sure of having ‘taken out’ a few colleagues myself in this manner.

My road to recovery was aided yesterday by the heroic Harriet Harman who, put out by Polly Toynbee’s tilt at the title, decided to grab some of the glory by taking a swing at Danny Alexander. I’m guessing the message from the dear leader on being serious about politics doesn’t apply to party get-togethers though it makes you wonder when it does apply. ‘Ginger rodent’ is hardly the nastiest thing I’ve heard (Nye Bevan referred to the Conservatives as ‘vermin’) but as with all insults it’s counterproductive, there is no progression of ideas and it raises the thorny issue of when is it ever acceptable to prefix an insult with a reference to the person’s appearance. I’m pretty sure of being guilty of this too but just in case you’re wondering Harriet, the answer is NEVER!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A difference of opinion

Last week's comprehensive spending review has resulted in a disappointing but predictable rehash of ‘Conservatives out to destroy the poor’-type headlines that I first remember reading during the 1980’s. Regardless of your political outlook they didn’t make a lot of sense then and they certainly don’t now. Logically, why would a ruling party set out to deliberately alienate a large section of the voting public? The answer is simple, they wouldn’t; they might not do a very good job but they wouldn’t intentionally do a bad one. There, I’ve stated the bleeding obvious but, you know, just in case…

I suspect we’ll always be assaulted with this sort of nonsense of which there’s no better practitioner than Polly Toynbee. Polly, who I only read for the comedy, outdid herself on Monday by holding forth on the Conservatives ‘final solution’ for housing the poor. Come to think of it, it’s not that funny, perhaps I should be insulted and that might be the intention, but after the pleasure of seeing her make an idiot of herself there’s the sigh at another act playing to the home crowd. Points on for winding up the Tories but points off for losing the neutrals and more points off if the intention was to help the poor, for invective rarely changes and often entrenches opinion. There's also the suspicion that such talk isn’t just to rally the faithful but to keep them in line. Can you imagine what would happen to the poor bastard brave enough to put up his hand and suggest:
Maybe they just have a different point of view?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Anything but

It just goes to show how much personal experience can influence opinion and not necessarily in the right direction, because whilst Internet Explorer 6 is a stinky browser I can understand (there’s a lot of understanding in this post) how it got there. Back in the day Microsoft were quite an innovative company and IE was an innovative product - oh yes it was! As Obi Wan in my obligatory Star Wars reference might say, it’s “true, from a certain point of view”. Forging ahead instead of waiting for consensus from newly emerging standards bodies can be seen as perfectly valid when there’s only you and Netscape on the scene. Unfortunately Microsoft carried on in this vein right up to, and some would argue beyond, version 6. God help us all.

Tobias wrote a challenging post a while back explaining why he temporarily switched off IE access to one page on his site. Though it struck me at the time as being a little severe I understood the frustration, mainly because it wasn’t the first time I’d heard people complain. I only recollect this as I recently found myself writing a little code - ‘code’ as in tinkering with the blog because I don’t have a life - and hit the ‘it looks fine in everything but’ problem with Microsoft’s browser. I think that was when I really understood the frustration – ‘understood’ as in wanting to burn Internet Explorer, more specifically IE6, to the ground; too severe, right?

Friday, 15 October 2010


When I was young or to put it another way, a long time ago, I was prone to excessive maudlin episodes that were often punctuated by my Dad telling me to “smile” or “cheer up”, to which I would grimace and mutter something ungrateful under my breath. Later, much later I remember seeing Janet Street Porter interviewed by a group of teenagers complaining that the world wasn’t fluffy enough, to which they were told to stop whining; thus introducing me to the genuinely new experience of liking Janet Street Porter. If only I could figure out what happened in-between...

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A subsidy by any other name

Previously I said George Osborne was talking nonsense when it came to describing child benefit as an example of the poor subsidising the rich. However my response was less to do with what he was saying and more with why he was saying it; what I should have said is that I agree with him.

There are two main criticisms against removing child benefit from high earners. The first is that universal benefits are cheaper to administer than means-testing – which is correct and why the government settled on an imperfect solution of using the income tax system as a cheap and easy test. The second is that as a result, a couple who are each on an income in the standard tax bracket will be able to keep the benefit even though their combined salaries could exceed that of a couple who lose out because one of their salaries is in the higher tax bracket. This is unfair, but no more so than the idiosyncrasy that already exists with a progressive tax system where a couple earning £30,000 each will pay far less tax than a couple with a single wage of £60,000. Fix this anomaly (if you dare) and everything falls into place.

If we ensure the cost of administration remains comparatively cheap there is no justification for universal benefits. That the better off more than pay their way isn’t in dispute, however it isn’t relevant. What’s important is the simple logic reminding us that an increased tax liability from giving a benefit to the rich (or indeed anyone) is paid for through the taxation of everyone else. To quote Harold Wilson:
One man's wage rise is another man's price increase.
Avoid the word subsidy if you wish, call it an entitlement if you must, but the poor will definitely pay.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Not so fine

Damn it, I have been laid low by a Tesco finest steak pie or possibly a bug that I’ve caught from Mrs R – it’s safer to blame Tesco. It was a rubbish pie though, I’d have preferred a steak bake from Greggs and I base this seemingly harsh judgement on a globby bit of fat that left me unable to eat the rest. A reminder that if I want really good food I should skip the supermarket convenience and make the most of the farmer’s market, though it only visits twice a month. To top it off the re-packaged Tesco vanilla cheesecake to which they’ve added a hint more vanilla essence, the word “finest” and an extra thirty pence, is no better than the previous version. Why am I surprised?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A rant on all your taxes

Universal benefits, what are they good for? I’d have said “absolutely nothing” but such benefits have become a mutated refund from a labyrinthine tax system, one that leaves us unable to calculate our actual tax burden or even an estimated average that you can trust. I like Paul Waugh’s description of child benefit as a token rebate for those where the benefit is their only ‘take’ from the state.

Judging any tax in isolation is completely pointless but it won’t stop childless people complaining that they subsidise the rest, or George Osborne on a similar tack telling us that it’s ‘unfair’ for the poor to subsidise the rich; I admire his chutzpah but he's talking complete bollocks. The chancellor is doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons and his real reason of course is to make any subsequent cuts more palatable. Such nonsense reminds me of the good old days of another kind of cut, a tax cut, and the obligatory interview with your average family who would lament “it’s not fair for others that we’re being given this money”. You’re not being given anything you idiots, they’re taking less away!

You can’t judge a tax by its name. No one believes that vehicle tax and petrol tax is spent on road maintenance or that it discourages us from driving. Despite this we’ve had numerous attempts at introducing another ‘green’ tax, a road tax; that would be three taxes that I’d have to pay to be able to do one thing - drive to work – all so I can pay more tax.

Contributing according to my means is a duty I gladly accept but I object to a deliberate obfuscation of how much I’m paying, whether it's through the creation of new taxes or additional taxes on something that is already taxed, and then throwing in populist ad-hoc universal rebates such as child benefit or even the winter fuel allowance. Removing the universality of child benefit is one tiny step in the right direction and a simplified universal credit system may prove to be another. Let me at least understand my liability rather than hide me from the truth.