Saturday, 22 November 2008
Credit unions are not big in the UK. Type 2 credit unions - the larger ones - now offer their members debit cards as well as the usual direct debits and standing orders, are covered by the £50k guarantee scheme in the same way as bank deposits, have the additional benefit that any outstanding loans are cancelled on death and most of all offer decent rates on both deposits and loans. They are, of course, wholly owned by their members and have no fat-cat directors or dividends to pay out. Yet only 3% of us belong to one, compared to Canada where a third of the population are members. Membership is also high in the US, with over 87 million members.
Part of the reason for the low take up in the UK is I suspect due to their parochial reputation, yet the two largest UK credit unions, both open nationally to serving and retired police officers, have a membership of nearly 30,000 between them. I don't think credit union membership is yet a substitute in the UK for a current account with one of the retail banks, but I shall join one. Or possibly two. And I think this will be a growing trend as we trust the banks less and less.
You can search for a credit union that you may be eligible to join at http://www.abcul.coop
(Uhm no I'm not turning Commie - but the Grauniad hasn't published a Rowson cartoon since June - perhaps 'Dead Gordon' was too much for the poor dears)
During the boom, councils driven by EU stupidity have set up vast recycling schemes across the country; millions of additional wheelie bins have been bought and distributed, expensive waste recycling plants and yards constructed and a national infrastructure developed. Now, of course, the entire market has collapsed. Prices for paper, metal and plastics have hit rock bottom. Glass cullet for some reason remains viable, but I fear not for much longer. And no one's admitting it yet, but the truth is for the next couple of years at least all those cans, papers and plastics that you so painfully segregate on pain of a fine from the Bin Police will have to go to landfill or be 'stored' in huge windrows on redundant airfields. And I'll bet it won't be long before the burned out cars reappear around the place.
Now of course there's no shortage of landfill in the UK; our mineral extraction activity puts the system into equilibrium. And in theory it should be cheap to dump all this recycled rubbish along with our food waste and soiled nappies in holes in the ground. We can even cap the dumps off with a metre of clay, push pipes through and collect the free methane. But the EU forbids us from doing so; the Landfill Tax will rise next year to £48 / tonne. So your council will shortly be raising your council tax to pay for an artificial tax for dumping recycled waste into free holes we already have. I've blogged on this inanity before - see 'No shortgage of landfill in the UK'.
Oh, and you're already paying for thousands of extra dustcarts, thousands of additional staff and all the expensive infrastructure which will now stand idle. And this lunatic government are shortly to force all home in Britain to hand over their food scraps and rotting veg to the council at even greater cost in new 'caddies', staff and vehicles.
How we ever acceded to this insanity is utterly beyond me.
Friday, 21 November 2008
The FT sets out the position this morning; a budget deficit that could go as high as 9% of GDP, three times the EU's limit, and 'official' public sector spending that could reach 60% of national income, not only way above Brown's target 40% but unthinkable in peacetime. Most of you will recall that Thatcher managed to reduce this to 35% by 1989, needing only a modest rise to 41% to meet the recession of the mid nineties.
If Darling doesn't announce either deferred tax rises or real public spending cuts on Monday, the market's loss of confidence and the pressure on the pound will make the position much worse very quickly. If he does announce them, he will have proved Cameron right.
And that's the argument that will be played out this weekend. It will also be the best indicator of whether we're going to have an election early in 2009; no tax increase announcements from Darling, and the country's returning officers can start dusting-off the ballot boxes.
Darling will try to use the nation's hatred of the banks to deflect headlines on Monday, but this too will damage the economy. Hate them or hate them, the banks are central to our economic well-being.
It's game on.
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
... it is a long-odds gamble that voters will feel so grateful after a lengthy period of job losses and repossessions as to feel they owe him another term. Mr Cameron's classic "Time for change" pitch works better the longer Mr Brown hangs around without a mandate, looking his age.The period between Brown announcing an election and the poll itself has to be over 17 working days; the February 28th election in 1974 was held 21 days after the announcement. The Queen can dissolve Parliament when it's in recess (as it will be until 12th January) or if she's at Sandringham, so the new year break doesn't pose an obstacle.
The downside would be the terror in government ranks at the thought of an "early" election (though not by the usual convention of four-year terms not five) after last autumn's cancelled election trauma. This was brought home to me when a usually serene Labour peeress practically spat fury when I raised the idea and attributed it to the "Right wing press and its allies". Oddly, since one former minister and diehard friend of Mr Brown had just confirmed it as "an option that has to be considered on the quiet".There would be an opportunism charge for sure. But Mr Cameron could not afford to dwell on an argument about timing once a short campaign was under way. "You'd be mad not to think about it," says another senior figure who has worked closely with Mr Brown for decades. "He will see how the Tory poll lead fares after Christmas, then make a decision."
That February 1974 election was our last Winter election - and produced a hung Parliament. The Conservatives were the incumbent party at the time, and as an interesting footnote Labour had this economic summary in their manifesto:
Three years ago when Labour was in power, Britain had a big and growing surplus on the balance of payments. Mortgage rates stood at 8.5 per cent; Labour had built two million houses in six years; and the rise in the cost of living had been held down to less than S per cent a year. Today interest rates are at record high levels, and house building is at its lowest for more than ten years. The cost of living has gone up by 10 per cent a year and food prices have risen by no less than 18 per cent in one year.
The present Government came to office with promises of lower taxation, stable prices, reduced unemployment and increased financial strength. Three years later we have experienced a 20 per cent devaluation of the pound (or a 'float' downwards of that extent); unemployment has been over a million and is now rising again; prices have risen faster than at any time in living memory; and tax cuts for the rich have been paid for by price rises for the rest of us. We now have the lowest house building programme since 1963 combined with rampant inflation in rents and house prices. Wages are controlled whilst unearned incomes and capital values soar. The banks have doubled their profits through the record interest rates their customers have to pay. 1974 will certainly produce the biggest balance of payments deficit in our history.
So almost a mirror image of the position we face now.
AT last, the Tories seem to be finding their voice.
They have decided to put hard-working taxpayers first — and dump their daft promise to match Labour’s bloated spending.
The cost of running the State has DOUBLED to £600 BILLION a year since Labour took power.
Yet, far from using the good years to save for a rainy day, the cupboard is bare.
Taxes have rocketed, with little improvement in health, education or transport.
Welfare bills remain high, despite the creation of three million new jobs. House prices are collapsing. The Pound is in freefall.
Our only option is to take the axe to the bureaucratic monster strangling our job-creating private sector. That means swift cuts in both tax AND spending.
Labour seems ready to gamble the entire economy on a “cut now, pay tomorrow” burst of tax reductions financed by ever-higher borrowing.
That is the economics of the madhouse.
We must show we mean business — in every sense of the word.
The floor is yours, Mr Cameron. Now tell us precisely what you plan to do with it.
Ben Brogan, Lobby chairman (and the Mail's political editor), hinted that the 'Mail' may at last be losing its infatuation with Brown. Speaking at a Polis event last night he said that Brown's spin machine was even more formidable than Blair's
"When the time comes to write a record of Gordon Brown's time as chancellor, I think the record will show that Gordon Brown was phenomenally good at building strategic alliances with certain newspapers, mine included, and certain journalists and using that to his advantage"
So could Dacre be undergoing a road to Damascus moment? Mmmm,
Thank you for your email dated 18th November, in which you say:
However, I am suffering from the misapprehension that rather than wholesale gas prices that 'will probably continue to rise', the falls in the oil price mean that they will probably continue to fall. You're the experts, I suppose, and the financial press and the government have clearly read the market wrong.
World oil and gas prices have been reaching record highs – this is an issue facing all energy suppliers. This means the cost of energy has been going up and will probably continue to rise. As a result of this, we had to increase our standard energy prices on 30 July but we delayed increasing your Click Energy 5 prices for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, we had to increase your prices on 30 September 2008. So for a home with average usage, Click Energy 5 gas prices have risen on average by 42%.
Clearly, your tardy and retrospective notification of a back-calculated price increase can have nothing to do with the Government's call last month for you to cut prices, or with the Minister's Written Statement to the Commons yesterday in which he said ‘I have highlighted the public’s concern about the current high level of retail prices and impressed upon the companies the need for retail energy prices to reflect changes in wholesale prices as soon as possible.’
And I'm sure you wouldn't even think of imposing an artificial temporary increase to allow you to claim a large price cut in the future. I'm confident that British Gas leave such transparent mechanisms to sofa retailers and the like.
Thank you also for your reassurance that I'm now paying '5% less for your gas than our standard rates'. That's a great comfort to me. And for your friendly and casual post scriptum;
P.S. We will automatically reassess your Direct Debit payment at the time of your next statement. We will write to let you know before we change your payments. So you don't need to do anything.Again, I am greatly comforted that although my direct debit payments to you will almost double, that I 'don't need to do anything'. Except perhaps earn more money to pay for it.
I am privileged indeed to be the customer of a gas company that has only back-charged me 42% more for gas I have already used at a time when prices are falling, and I am proud to be able to contribute to your company's profits and dividends at this difficult time.
- School Food Trust
- Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales
- Agricultural Wages Committees for England x 15
- British Potato Council
- Food from Britain
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority
- Home Grown Cereals Authority
- Horticulture Development Council
- Meat and Livestock Commission
- Milk Development Council
- Sea Fish Industry Authority
- Wine Standards Board
- Advisory Committee on Organic Standards
- Advisory Committee on Packaging
- Advisory Committee on Pesticides
- Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees x 18
- Animal Health and Welfare Strategy England Implementation Group
- Committee of Investigation for Great Britain
- Committee on Agricultural Valuation
- Consumers’ Committee for Great Britain under the Agriculture Marketing Act 1958
- Farm Animal Welfare Council
- Hill Farming Advisory Committee for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel
- Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
- Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee
- Agricultural Land Tribunals
- Commons Commissioners
- Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal
- Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal
- Alcohol Education and Research Council
- Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition
- Advisory Committee on Animal Feedstuffs
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes
- Advisory Committee on Research
- Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food
- Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP)
- Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals
- WRAP (minimisation of food waste)
- Marine & Fisheries Agency
- Rural Payments Agency
- Animal Health
All providing lots of jobs for the boys (and girls). And as Yokel pointed out, these are just our national costs; add the cost of the European Food Standards Agency and the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, never mind our net contribution to CAP, and I reckon at least 15% of Dave's savings are available in this area alone.
Right, lick your pencils, lads ...
A decade ago piracy was largely confined to the South China Sea. Now it threatens our lifeline through the Suez - and remember that half our food is imported by sea, never mind the container ships packed with iPods and plastic Christmas trees. On the North African coast, too, the pirates are re-emerging, for the Straits of Gibraltar are just as attractive a pinchpoint as the Gulf of Aden. Now they're smuggling Africans into Europe, but it won't be long before the first ship is seized here.
The Times is quite right in its leader this morning. New threats mean new rules of engagement. Or rather old threats mean rediscovering the old rules of engagement. Somali or Algerian ports and harbours that shelter pirates, their ships and stores must not be immune to robust naval action on grounds of sovereignty.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
I suppose there will be much giggling and 'serves them right' type sentiments about. I suppose some folk will be lighting the burning brands and donning the ski masks. I suppose HR agencies are wondering how they can use the information without breaching data protection legislation.
There will be people on the list who will now lose their jobs and livelihoods. No one knows whether it's a real list or not. Even if one false name and personal details have been inserted as some sort of cunning revenge it's none of anyone else's business.
I'm on record on this blog for my loathing of the BNP and its policies. However, they're a legal political party, and individuals should have every right to join them and every right to have their identities kept confidential.
With talk of an early election, I can't help but feel this may be the start of a dirty tricks campaign. And no, I'm not wholly convinced that Brown's State couldn't have been involved.
Information shared on Privy Council Terms carries obligations. It can't be used for party political scrapping. There is an assumption that the information provided by government to Privy Council members and the Sovereign will be fair and truthful. I believe that it was information shared on Privy Council Terms that swung the Tories behind Blair at the time, and I believe that Blair deceived both the Privy Council and the Sovereign. Cameron can't say so. The Sovereign can't say so. I can only suggest it as a possibility.
Lord Bingham's Grotius lecture is reported knowledgeably by Joshua Rozenberg in the Telegraph. Bingham is of the opinion that there was a 'serious violation of international law and of the rule of law' in the invasion. Goldsmith, the Attorney General who provided the flawed advice, has commented that he did what he believed was right. No doubt. I'm sure there were those who faced the International Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946 who claimed the same.
As Karadzic has found, and as Mladic will find, the world has a long memory and a great patience to see justice done. And so it is that the great Officers of State at the time must wait and see if the evidence is there to indict them, and for this we need the inquiry that the Conservatives support. And I think for the first time we must allow the light in on what was said to the Leader of Opposition on Privy Council Terms. Let's just remind ourselves of those that could still find themselves facing charges;
Tony Blair - Prime Minister
Lord Irvine - Lord Chancellor
Gordon Brown - Chancellor of the Exchequer
Jack Straw - Foreign Secretary
Geoff Hoon - Defence Secretary
Lord Goldsmith - Attorney General
None are in hiding, and all could be brought to justice fairly swiftly. Both we and the Iraqi people deserve 'closure', and the government's continued dodging on a full public inquiry cannot be sustained indefinitely. It is in the interests of justice that this is done now, whilst memories are still fresh, and whilst those named above remain alive and accessible.
Our future government will throw out a coruscating rainbow of hope and freedom as the drear iron shackles of the Labour State are struck from our wrists and ankles and this country can once again breathe freely in the clear upland air. Bill will follow Bill, tumbling through the legislative stages, rolling back Labour's intrusive State, returning authority to families and intermediate institutions, returning power and accountability to local government, giving communities control of their policing, offering a life and a future to Labour's five million Welfare slaves.
Our future government will heed the hunger for political reform and recognise that central parties allied to a central State have corroded our democracy to the point of failure; around the nation a thousand gardens will bloom as local associations are rejuvenated and invigorated, as career politicians and blow-in apparatchiks are sent packing, and as ordinary people who make a good job of running their own lives take control of formulating policy and pushing it upwards. Instead of fifty party experts in central office, five thousand policy experts in our shires and villages and in our towns and suburbs will try and test, formulate and pilot, policies and processes that can be adopted across the nation.
Our future government will recognise that the core functions of government, maintaining the defence of the nation and a framework of law, are amongst the very few functions that can only be exercised collectively at national level, and that nearly every other collective function must be devolved to the lowest tier that can effectively exercise it. They will recognise that this is not only the most effective and economically efficient, but also the most democratically healthy way of carrying out collective functions.
Our future government will not allow the unrealised potential of our people to be wasted locked into Welfare slavery, deprived of the dignity of work, alienated from the security of belonging. Ours is one nation, and membership is open to all our citizens - rich and poor, black and white, hindu, moslem or athiest; one nation with shared values and with cultural congruence, a rich and nutritious dish in which pinches of subtle spices from around the world are blended with traditional British beef to create a superlative feast.
We have the chance to reform a Britain we don't want and don't like, a Britain that Labour have fouled and damaged with their well-meaning stupidity. We have the chance to trust ourselves, to reverse Labour's utter distrust of anything but the central State to do good. We have the chance to take up the benison of responsibility, and grow in personal stature as we learn that we, and not the State, can do it all.
Before long, we'll have the chance to make these changes at the ballot box. The nation is hungry for reform, ravenous for change. We want our lives back. We want our security back. We want the State out of our bedrooms, our kitchens and our living rooms. We want all that power returned that Labour has stolen like a sneak-thief from us all. We want our nation back.
Monday, 17 November 2008
Well, having gone through more vetting than Haringey social services would apply to a child adoption, I have been allowed to make a home for two moggies from the shelter - mother and son.
They were living wild but aren't feral. Mum's cautious but Boy has all his instincts in the right place, launching himself at the window glass when a pigeon passed by. And he has very sharp teeth and a very strong jaw. They settled in straight away and not a single 'accident' anywhere, and have voracious appetites. Once they're allowed out of the workroom I expect chaos. Oh well.
(a) Assume there will be no trouble, and not bother much about security, or
(b) Mount scanners and staff with wands at the entrances and search the audience for knives and guns?
The O2 is also hosting Leonard Cohen. His audience are highly unlikely to be carrying any weapons beyond a rolled-up copy of the Guardian's supplement on Nicaraguan healthcare, so don't need to be searched. It's called risk assessment. Not racism.
These people are the ones who fill the Treasury's coffers, who pay the wages of Brown's army of Quangocrats, who fund MPs' bloated and recession-proof pension pots, who pay for Labour's mendacious military adventures, and who pay for all the social welfare agencies and the vast costs of policing and supervising the feckless and corrosive underclass. On any scale of fairness their expectation of a share in measures to counter the recession is a reasonable one.
Does Brown recognise any of this? Of course not. The IMF are pushing for tax cuts in the region of 2% of GDP. The Taxpayers Alliance have recommended immediate measures to cut income tax by 3p, take 2% off VAT and reduce employers' NICs by 2% from the current 12.8%. These measures come to about 2% of GDP. They would without doubt be the fairest and most equitable way of buffering the nation through the worst of the recession. Which is why Brown won't even consider it.
Brown's only concern is to increase hand-outs to his Welfare State clients. He's quite happy to see the prudent, responsible core of this nation not only suffer, but pay for his largesse.
Janet Daley, writing in the Telegraph this morning, recognises this. Millions of ordinary, responsible families across Britain recognise this. Unfortunately, neither Labour nor the Tories recognise this. Cameron and Osborne will stick to their purist position and condemn us to another five years of Labour, and Brown will use the opportunity to ratchet up the micro-management of the intrusive State into all our lives.
The intelligent and well-reasoned anonymous response to this post below is faultless in its logic. However, what if Brown calls an election before the backlash kicks in? The Tories are allowing themselves to be cast as the villains. They will shed votes like water from a weir.
I'm sorry, but getting Labour out of office and keeping them out is the greatest of all priorities. And if this takes Osborne standing on the rooftop in his underpants shouting 'Jam tomorrow!' then it's a price worth paying.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Angela Merkel gets a mention. Sarkozy gets several. Taro Aso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are both name-checked. Hu Jintao gets a photo caption. But Brown? Nowhere. The head of government of the world's fifth largest economy is a nonentity. He must have hated sitting there and being ignored by the people who are working out how to react to this global crisis. But as long as he kept his ears open and has understood his instructions correctly, I suppose he was as good as anyone to send to the meeting.
I would just love the BBC's New York news crew to vox-pop a few Wall Street economists and ask about Brown's miracle plan for saving the world, only to see their eyebrows rise in question and utter the single word "who?" in response.
This is a delusion shared by most politicians. Even when being introduced to the Sovereign, they will glance over her shoulder to see if there is anyone more important behind her.
However, Byrne neglects to mention the time at which he prefers to take a dump. This is an oversight on his part, as no doubt it now requires a civil servant to sit in the ministerial toilet and warm the seat all day in anticipation. If he could instruct his civil servants as to the fifteen minute 'window' in which he will evacuate his bowels, no doubt staff efficiencies can be realised.
Whilst the papers carry Gordon's promises of jam for all, and before Christmas too, George's message hasn't got a hope in hell of being heard. And if the choice between Gordon's jam and George's bread and dripping was put to the voters, Gordon would win.
There's a world of difference between being right and being electable. The Tories are between Scylla and Charybdis on this one. They can carry on being right and see their vote ebb away, or promise better jam than Labour.
How Cameron gets out of this one, I don't know.