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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Attention tax protestors

For any tax protesters out today and planning to occupy the 'Guardian' for its chiselling crooked tax-avoiding ways, please note they've MOVED from Farringdon; they're now at Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG. Put it in your satnavs. 

Attention hopeless romantics

Go on then. Buy it. Agent here (no connection).

We interview the marchers

"Awrigh' yeah, mate, gissa fag; I'm here because the Tory gubment are destroying my way of life I mean why are we having to walk three miles, eh? Tory cuts. A'orta put buses on, or cabs, for us, know what I mean? They cut all the transport so we have to walk. Gissa tenner" [Darren, 23]

"Well, I'm a Flower Artist and I make pictures of how I see the world from flowers. The council have said they're cutting my grant from eight thousand a year to two hundred and fifty quid and I'm being moved from my free council studio in the Starlight Centre to an old shipping container at the back of the municipal baths; the Tories are taking my right to express myself in my art which is a basic human right and also some of the old people in the libraries where I exhibit don't have any other chance to see high quality art .... no, I haven't sold any of my work yet but that's mainly because it's designed to rot to a brown sludge after three weeks" [Miranda, 30]

"Uhm, I've just come with Jasser and Bish, there; I don't really know what this is all about I don't really follow politics but there's some decent girls about, yah? We're watching the boat race in a pub somewhere, and we're going to try to get into Boujis later .... no, we're at Eton, yah?" [Josh, 17]

"This is the start of the revolution against Tory capitalist hedgey-money, righ? The pipple have had enuff and workers youneye'eh will nevah be defea'eh righ'? [Ed, 41]

Friday, 25 March 2011

I've got a better credit rating than Portugal

My doormat is home to a number of invitations to borrow money; the best of them is inviting me to take a £10k unsecured loan for 7.3%. The EU is similarly trying to get Portugal to accept a loan, at a reasonable 7.5%. No doubt as Lisbon has its breakfast it will look at the payment terms before chucking the letter in the bin - or perhaps not. After all, why not take the loan, ignore the country's ability to meet the payments and have a big splurge? The hangover comes tomorrow, after all, and that's a world away. And if the worst comes to the worst, Portugal can always take an Individual Voluntary Arrangement, or even take bankruptcy and default on all its obligations. After all, it's done this five times already since 1800.  

Still, it's a measure of the country's financial instability that I've got a marginally better credit rating than Portugal. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

How much is a church worth?

Here we have a genuine 15th century church with an acre of churchyard in an idyllic Norfolk village. How much would you think it's worth?

You're right. It's a trick question. It isn't in fact a church, a place of worship, but an ex-church with planning consent to turn it into a three bedroom dwelling. Its current value is nil. You see, the costs of converting it to a dwelling actually exceed the sales price of three-bed houses in the area, even very upscale ones; the open market value of the property is actually negative. 

I saw it on the market a couple of years ago at a fantasy price. The owner's still trying to flog it albeit at a much more modest price, but still far in excess of its actual worth as a dwelling. Which is nil. 

The CofE's disposal conditions no doubt stipulated that it was never to revert to being a place of worship. And so it slowly decays; the pigeons are in, the roof is holed and water is penetrating the roof timbers. I don't think it's on the Building at Risk registers yet - buildings need to be in far worse condition to gain entry to that particular list. 

The owner is hoping for a foolish romantic with no clue about property values to take it off their hands, and who knows, such a person may eventually appear. Until then it stands as a minor embarrassment to us all. 

Cigarettes - do the maths

  • UK cost of 3,200 Benson & Hedges @ £7.00 / 20: £1,120
  • Spain cost of 3,200 Benson & Hedges @£3.30/20: £528
  • Saving: £592
  • Cheapest budget airline day return: £46
In economic terms, we're into 'white goods' territory here; US researchers found that if Sales Tax in neighbouring states varied by more than about 5% then consumers would cross state lines to buy white goods. I forecast another bonus for the budget airlines.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Time to sack the mandarins

With news that the civil service is doing what the civil service always does - smile and assure ministers, then take no notice whatsoever of ministerial instructions - the time has come to introduce a new 'performance bonus' for our most senior mandarins. The deal is this; if you fail to reduce your workforce by 10% a year, you get the sack. Simples. 

Breaking Whitehall's stranglehold on the country was never going to be easy. The civil service is the staunchest defender of the Leviathan central State, and will never willingly give up a nanogram of power. To break its grip, Cameron will need to be ruthless - and he will have the support of the country. Sacking the mandarins may leave us with a short-lived administrative mess, but it will be worth it. 

C'mon Dave - have you got the balls for it or not?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why the CPS need to trust juries

There is an excellent piece by Guthrum (Andrew Withers) on the offence of Misconduct in Public Office that helps answer all my own questions about this most valuable offence. From recent trial accounts, the offence is used mainly by the CPS to prosecute plods who have been caught shagging civilians whilst on duty - something clearly so heinous that only an offence with a theoretical life sentence will do. As Guthrum remarks, the one class of criminal conspicuous by their absence from facing this charge in the dock are the most culpably guilty of all - politicians, their dags, and senior public servants. 

It's not, I strongly suspect, that the more gung-ho prosecutors in the CPS wouldn't like to try it - but almost certain that their political masters have prohibited them from doing so. The CPS is, after all, a branch of government, not a branch of an independent judiciary. They do what their Permanent Secretary and SoS - the very people most threatened by the offence - tell them to do. Which is not to even think about prosecuting any but the lowliest and most humble of public servants for misconduct. 

If the CPS were both independent of government and democratically supported I'm sure we would see some very senior public servants and politicians in the dock alongside the shagging coppers. As it's an indictable offence, those charged have the right of a jury trial; I think the CPS need to trust an English or Welsh jury (I'm not sure that wilful misconduct is actually an offence in Scotland) to decide guilt or innocence. They might be surprised. 

Cat confused shock

One of my cats is a half decent mouser. The problem is, once he's caught one he just doesn't know what to do with it; the idea of eating it never occurs to him, so he plays with it until it dies. I then have to drop the little mouse corpse into the recycling bin. 

Libya, unfortunately, is a little more problematical to dispose of than a dead mouse, but neither Cameron, Obama or Sarkozy have any more idea than my cat what to do when Gadaffi falls. Bristly little armchair generals across the web are rattling their toy sabres in a warm puddle of petty pomposity as they condemn any that naysay them, even as we watch the real generals squabble like children over who's in charge and what are they supposed to do, anyway?

I'll come back to this in three months. 

Monday, 21 March 2011

1% GDP growth in 1st Quarter?

The expected £8bn tax windfall the Chancellor may expect for 2010/2011 may be supplemented by a spurt of GDP growth in the last quarter of the financial year when figures are revealed in late April that may be as high as 1% - when the official forecast for GDP for the whole of calendar 2011 is just 1.8%. 

Not an excuse for a Brownite splurge, but perhaps a slight easing of fiscal pressure. 

Baron Cormack

My heartiest congratulations go to Sir Patrick Cormack on his elevation to the life peerage as Baron Cormack. It would have been a shame indeed to have lost the talents of this bloody-minded old Parliamentarian at the tender age of 72. Andrew Pierce is being a bit sniffy in the Mail today in writing
Miss Widdecombe missed out while David Cameron honoured nonentities such as the former backbencher Sir Patrick Cormack, who once suffered the humiliation of an attempt by his constituency party to have him de-selected as their MP.
Almost right, Andrew. In fact it was a crooked little plot by Tory Central Office to unseat Sir Patrick that badly backfired; when the Cameroons were shown to have corruptly stuffed the ballot box a full poll of the constituency membership was held, at which Sir Patrick won 75% of votes cast. CMD wanted some inoffensive and obedient 25 year-old media studies blow-in for the seat; the voters were happy with Sir Patrick. The reason CMD didn't like Cormack was explained by Sir Patrick himself in an interview with the Guardian;
I've had masses of letters from people who say they vote for me not because I'm Conservative but because they think I'm an independent-minded local parliamentarian. I've always taken the line it's country-constituency-party, in that order.
Not the sort of line to endear him to Central Office.  

Marine Le Pen

As with Geert Wilders, reports of Marine Le Pen's probable chances in the 2012 French presidential elections are probably exaggerated. Current polls show that if Le Pen stood against Sarkozy and a nonentity Socialist each would take about a third of the vote, thereby opening the possibility of Sarkozy being knocked out and a dream run-off between Marine and the lefty, or the nonentity lefty being knocked out and a win-win (for the right) run off between Marine and Sarkozy. This ignores the possibility that the unknown lefty could be substituted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a candidate the kermits may strongly prefer over both Sarkozy and Le Pen. 

However, a year is a very long time in politics. If the anarchy in North Africa releases a tsunami of sub-Saharan immigration to Europe's soft underbelly, if African corpses are regularly washed up not just on the beaches of Lampedusa amongst the stoic Hun but on the sands of Cannes amongst the sensitive luvvies, if the Nord Pas de Calais region (already a Le Pen stronghold) attracts vast kraals of immigrants in plastic-sheeting cities then the electoral advantage may easily pass to Marine Le Pen. Likewise, if the PIGS continue to drain France's wealth (and I notice many French tills still produce receipts with Euro-Franc dual pricing) Le Pen's anti-EU stance may prove attractive. 

Against all this, the Euro-left are profoundly disturbed by the shift to the right in Europe, along with growing Europhobia. Political corruption is so deeply engrained in the left that they will steal every cent of tax money they can to fight for their crumbling empire. And with support from the soft right and CMD it makes an uphill battle. 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Being rude about Essex

It was one of the ancient chroniclers - Hollingshed perhaps - who described the inhabitants of Essex as 'half East Anglian and half human'. Indeed, it's this cultural ambiguity that haunts the people of this county to this day. Essex spawned Boudicca, but the indigenous Celtic marsh-dwellers were later subdued by the culture of the Angles and Jutes. Subdued but not absorbed; mitochondrial DNA reveals a surprising number of Essex folk retain their Celtic gene-markers. Sometimes this druidic Essex, a thing of dark groves and deserted marshes, comes forth, as during the witch trials. Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, hailed from Manningtree, and sent more Essex women to their deaths - some 200 - than were convicted anywhere else in Britain. Now of course we know that most of these women were just irritating and opinionated rather than the spawn of Satan; twas ever thus in Essex. 

In the days when I used to commute from Suffolk to London, our table of regulars used to carry out a white-sock count as the train drew into the intermediate stations. Manningtree, the first Essex stop, would have a WSC of some 10%, Colchester 25% and Chelmsford 40%. If the train stopped at Shenfield or Ingatestone, the count was well up into the 60% level. Sometime during the 1990s the men of Essex stopped wearing white socks with their city suits. Well, most of them, anyway. But the predeliction of Essex woman for white shoes doesn't seem to have diminished; white shoes and handbag are not a cliche in Chelmsford. They contrast well with the orange legs. 

Whether it's the East Anglian half or the human half that gives the people of Essex their distinctive character, or whether, like the Mule, the cross produces a distinct creature with a discrete character, I don't know. They really are a breed apart. If you don't believe me, visit the only London Monopoly board mainline station that few of you will be familiar with - Fenchurch Street. Whilst the crowds at Liverpool Street are polluted with fenmen and Norwich boys, Hollanders and Ipswichites, Fenchurch Street is pure Essex. 

Anyway, if you've a smidgeon of  anthropological curiosity, then The Only Way is Essex returns in ITV tonight. You won't understand what they're saying - Hopkins would have called it a secret language - and the attitudes may have you reaching for the ducking-stool, but have a care. Without the buffer of Essex, Suffolk would be neighbour to the Cockney.