16 October 2009
01 October 2009
03 September 2009
24 August 2009
I try to read a range of opinions and my feedreader contains a decent cross section of political bloggers, although sometimes I cannot remember why a particular one ends up in there. Nevertheless, I do follow the slightly pretentiously named "Letters from A Tory" and this morning a post (or "letter") did catch my eye as the title pretty much betrayed the author's opinion on its own: "Tories will bring back fox hunting by the back door" - of course there was a chance that "A Tory" would be enthusiastically arguing for hunting to be restored through the front door, but my interest was piqued by a seemingly rightwing blogger going against fox hunting.
Labels: political theory
18 June 2009
All credit to the Guardian which today launched a web application which had been built in the space of about a week, allowing its audience to collaborate with its journalists in analysing the newly released MP expenses documents. Charles Arthur explains how they did it here.
The furore over Prince Charles' intervention in the Chelsea Barracks development has been building for a number of weeks and I have been following the coverage of it in Building Design (which has a story about the new competition here) and elsewhere. Things came to a head earlier this week when Lord Rogers well and truly threw his toys out of his pram, calling Charles' actions "undemocratic".
I was going to wite a lengthy post arguing that a decision of a private landowner to withdraw a planning application has nothing to do with democracy. Rogers is effectively suggesting that because something has gone through planning it must be built - surely that cannot be right?
And in relation to Rogers' criticism that Charles was abusing his (unelected) influence, I was simply going to question what influence Rogers asserted to get the project in the first place and then to get it through planning - and ask how they are really any different?
It is probably just as well I haven't written such a post, as no doubt it would irritate those members of my family who are members (associate or otherwise) of the RIBA, and in any event, Alice Thomson in the Times has written a much better articles which is better argued than anything I would have written.
PS - what is also quite fun, knowing where Rogers lives (very nearby the Barracks as it happens), using Google Streetmap, it is possible to get this shot of his sitting room, complete with sight of his Mao Tse Tung by Andy Warhol.
This is a better image, via Zemanta:
05 June 2009
I would still like to make a contribution as a campaigner, helping you to lead Labour into the next general election, which I know we both believe Labour can and must win. We both came into politics for the same reasons; a passionate belief in decency, justice and fairness for ordinary people and an equally certain conviction that only Labour has the courage and the competence to make it happen.
That is why I will remain alongside you as we fight and win the next election under your leadership. Though not, with some wistful regret, as a member of your government.
My suspicion is that in order to serve Gordon Brown more effectively, Watson has had to ditch his ministerial role. As a minister, Watson had civil servants who had be shielded from his political activity, he had ministerial responsibilities to undertake (the ministerial trip to New York written about below which was curtailed by the political mini-crisis in September 2008) and so on. He's free from those responsibilities and restrictions from now on and can dedicate himself fully to Brown, who is of course, a bit short-staffed since the departure of McBride.
It's a shame really - as I told him via Twitter today - the greater good might have been better served by keeping the ministerial role and ditching the "save Brown" one.
Labels: Tom Watson
01 June 2009
Much of the discussion around MPs pay and expenses has made reference to the "average wage" in the UK. This got me thinking and I started to do some research, but immediately ran into a fog of adjusted numbers, put out in the main by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The IFS's statistics, which were picked up by the BBC News website and were the basis for a number of graphs that have been repeated elsewhere, including by Guido Fawkes, such as this one:
Even on the IFS's own figures, the "typical weekly income" quoted here is the median figure of £393 per week, when perhaps the more relevant MEAN average figure of £487 should have been quoted (see: IFS report on poverty and inequality for these figures) - no doubt the BBC journalists were looking for the biggest spread. Furthermore, these numbers are adjusted for tax (including council tax) and number of dependent children, which makes them hard to link back to annual salaries.
Personally, I am better able to deal with annual gross amounts when talking about salary, because that's the basis of what I earn and what it says in my employment contract. Luckily, help is at hand from the Office of National Statistics, which gives these number in all sorts of formats.
For the record, the mean average annual gross salary in Great Britain in 2008 was £26,020.
However, if this is the basis of a meaningful comparison with MPs salaries, it is notable that the mean average annual gross salary for men in full time employment in 2008 was £35,122.
Of course, many men are at the start of their careers when they are earning less money, bringing down the average, so I looked up the breakdown by age and the highest earning group are men between 40 and 49 (which is probably the typical age of an MP and therefore perhaps a fairer comparison), and the average wage for this group was £40,786.
If we put him on the BBC graph, it looks like this:
So, against the figure of £40,786, an MP's salary of £65,000 or so no longer looks quite so excessive - it is certainly not a multiple of that figure.
But what sparked all this off, was considering that fiendishly complicated New Labour innovation: working family tax credits. These are means tested credits which taper off, but are still of value to a family whose combined income is less than £58,000 per year.
I thought that was an interesting figure to bear in mind, on the basis that the government makes the judgement on behalf of "ordinary people" with a family that if their combined earnings are less than £58,000 - only marginally less than an MP's earnings, they are entitled to state benefit.
I am not suggesting for one moment that this is an excuse for Scamalot or even an argument to pay MPs more, but I do think these figures could help inform that debate.
28 May 2009
Blog Service Announcement:
I really love the service provided by Disqus and have had its commenting system on this blog for some time now. I recently became aware that there were a number of new features available, but assumed that there would be some cumbersome process required to activate them on here.
Not so: in around five minutes flat, I have updated the features, which means you can now sign in to comment using Facebook Connect or Twitter OAuth, and this included the time it took me to set up my own Facebook App, which is required for the Facebook Connect function to work specifically for this blog.
It may be form over substance, but I hope it encourages you to "join in the conversation", as they say, and make this a more vibrant blog.
/Blog Service Announcement
26 May 2009
Last year when the banks collapsed, various people went around saying it was the "end of capitalism" - the same people, no doubt, who thought house prices would always go up and the sun keep on shining all year round. More intelligent people pointed out, that crashing is what markets, particularly if poorly regulated, do from time to time.
The same is true of the current expenses scandal - Scamalot - which some, such as Alan Johnson MP, are hoping will act as the catalyst for the introduction of proportional representation as a cure for our "damaged" democracy.
Scamalot has been terrible for Parliament, political parties and various individual MPs, but it has been fantastic for democracy. Suddenly, all these MPs who have had questions asked of them in our free press are having to answer to their own constituents, and where their position is unsustainable, they are announcing their retirement at the next election. And where errant MPs are not going voluntarily, they are likely to face a strong challenge either from another party or from a "sleaze-busting" independent. "Safe" seats are suddenly not looking that safe after all. More importantly, the sense of national outrage will lead to reform and much more openness in the future.
Tom Harris MP has already taken issue with Johnson's article (and more humourously, here, with those using Scamalot as a chance to change other things), pointing out that PR does nothing to assist democracy, but he misses the major point that most forms of PR weaken the connection between the MP and the constituency - which has proved so important recently. Landslides not only produce strong (some would say, undemocratic) governments, but they also mean that no party is immune from almost complete wipe out, meaning that they have to reach out well beyond their hard core supporters if they are to win even a single seat.
David Cameron's response this morning in a speech to the Open University in Milton Keynes shows that he understands that it is openness and accountability (that openness brings with it) which will keep our democracy vibrant. Tom Harris can mock the fix term Parliament proposal all he likes but clearly he doesn't understand that where knowledge is power, governments need to be better at sharing their knowledge, starting with the date on which we all get the chance to boot them out of office.
22 May 2009
It needed a huge effort to top Douglas Hogg's dirty moat, but Peter Viggers' ducks finally did it this week, when it transpired that they had been claiming for a second home in the MP's duck pond, when in fact, it was their main home (or something like that).
The scandal has been so successful that it has cracked the US, getting its own slot on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and being dubbed "Scamalot" (see below for full clip).
I have blogged about this topic about as extensively as I have any other on this blog (great political story - easy to have a quick opinion) and in the main I am appalled, outraged etc, about the claims being made on the public purse by our MPs. However, there are two respects where I am starting to diverge from popular opinion: first, there seems to be disbelief that any MP (or at least one who lives within a couple of hours of London) could possibly require a second home to do their job properly - and that this should be somehow paid for by the taxpayer and secondly, that the natural reaction to this is to say "a plague on all your houses" and either refuse to vote, or vote for a supposedly clean fringe or extremist party.
So I was interested to hear Nadine Dorries on the radio this morning as she is one of the few MPs who has coherently (and from a position of innocence) attempted to put into context some of the claiming that has occurred (also blogged by her here). More interestingly, she has called out the entire media (but clearly the Daily Telegraph) for playing the shocked innocent card themselves, making out that the existence of MPs allowances is newsworthy in itself, or that a £24,000 tax free allowance was no more than a thinly veiled £40,000 pay increase.
I am also pleased to see that Iain Dale has picked up on the story of the council by-election in Hazel Blears' constituency, which was a Labour HOLD but saw the BNP move into third place, 17 votes behind the Libdems (whose vote slumped by 22%), and combined the minor parties (BNP, Greens and UKIP) took 33% of the vote. Even though council by-elections can be a very poor indicator of national trends (total turn out = 1612), these figures are pretty shocking, suggesting that there are plenty of feeble minded people out there who think that the criminals who run the BNP are better equipped to run the country than [the fraudsters running] the exisiting main parties. But how does the BBC report this: on the front page of its politics page we have: "Labour holds poll in Blears ward" - complete with a smiling photo of the idiot-savant herself, Hazel, declaring that she is "delighted". Dear God...
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
18 May 2009
I've been guest blogging for Enternships.com - a new website which provides a way for students and enterprising young people to get internships with great enterpreneurial companies - on the thorny topic of the National Minimum Wage and its application to unpaid interns.
You can read the whole article here.
13 May 2009
If only we had a word for "Schadenfreude" in the English language - we would be getting such great value out of it at the moment, which is more than you can say about our Members of Parliament and their fondness for claiming the maximum possible allowances for everything from plasma screens to drawbridge wax (OK, that may not be entirely factual).
But more significant than over or "mistakenly" claiming for the odd bit of dog food, is the tax implications of all of this - or more precisely the capital gains tax implications of desingating a house as your primary residence for tax purposes and your second home for expense purposes.
One of the offenders in this respect, Hazel Blears, has said she is paying the tax on the £45,000 profit she made on the sale of her "second home" and has been waving around a cheque made out to HMRC. Aside from the point that she is paying £13,332 on a reported profit of £45,000, which is about 29.6%, which is nice for her given that the higher rate on earned income is 40% - or 50% (or even 60% - see earlier post), I am not aware that HMRC accepts voluntary donations of tax.
Mrs Blears is apparently making the payment on a without prejudice basis. This is just as well, as if she admitted having fiddled her taxes, she would be in line for interest, penalties and possibly prosecution (although, frankly, unlikely where a taxpayer fesses up before the HMRC investigate....).
So what will HMRC do? Will they bank the cheque, say thanks a lot and no further questions? Or will they say if the tax is not due they have no jurisdiction to collect it? And what if they return it, will Mrs Blears donate the money to charity? If so, Shelter might be appropriate.
UPDATE: This post on Ben Brogan's blog appears to confirm my assumption that the HMRC can only take what is in fact due to it and a voluntary overpayment will (if not repaid) be set against future liability.
09 May 2009
The Daily Telegraph today is continuing its fine job of harassing those MPs who have been a bit liberal in their interpretation of the rules governing the Additional Costs Allowance (or "smearing", homophobically as Ben Bradshaw moaned on Twitter today).
Labels: MP Expenses
23 April 2009
The Daily Mash has probably got the best summary of Gordon Brown's proposals that MPs should get an attendance allowance instead of a second home allowance:
22 April 2009
OK bear with me here, but I think my maths is correct....
In the budget, the Chancellor has just announced that the top rate of tax for people earning over £150,000 per annum will rise to 50% for income over that amount. Cue headlines "Top rate of tax now 50%". BUT, personal allowances are being withdrawn from people who earn over £100,000, with a cut of £1 of allowance, for every £2 earned over £100,000. (see page 109 of this document).
In 2009/10 the basic personal allowance is £6,475 - so anyone earning over £112,950 will get no personal allowance and instead they will pay 40% tax on their earnings over (in 2008/09) £34,600. What I am not clear about is whether the ending of the personal allowance lowers the rate at which higher rate tax payers enter the higher band or whether it is at the same overall level - i.e. that they pay the basic rate for longer.
Assuming it is the former, then the previously tax free personal allowance will effectively be taxed at 40% as well (or at least at 20%).
So, if you earn £100,000 and your salary increases by £2000, you will pay £800 on the increase, plus lose £1000 of personal allowance, so will be paying an additional £400 in income tax - total tax burden on the additional £2000 = £1200 or 60%.
Even if the loss of the personal allowance means you are paying only 20% on that element, the burden will be £1000 (£800 plus £200) on a £2000 increase - 50%.
As ever, the budget is rife with spin and misdirection, but it should be crystal clear that the marginal rate of tax is rising for people earning over £100k, and not just at £150k.
27 February 2009
*OK, so this account is entirely based on how I imagined it whilst sitting on the tube this morning having read the papers.
Gordon Brown: Myners, first of all we need to sack the senior RBS management, starting with Fred Goodwin.
Paul Myners: OK Gordon, but you do realise that they are on rich contracts and we'll have to give them a wacking great pay off.
GB: We can't do that - there will be an outcry. You'll have to think of a way around it.
PM: What if we offer him something else such a boost to his pension which noone will pick up on until the dust has settled.
GB: I don't want to know - just sort it out.
PM: Yes, Prime Minister.
So there you have it. Proof, if any were needed why the government should not be involved in running businesses, particularly banks. They are bound to take rubbish decisions for political reasons and then we can all sit back whilst some lackey acting on orders from above takes the political fall out.
Paul Myers joined the government as a GOAT ("Government of All the Talents"). Turns out he's a scapeGOAT.
22 February 2009
In a highly unscientific, unverified survey of the "Top 25 UK Political Blog Twitterers" (as in by number of followers on Twitter, rather than by quality or anything else), conducted recently by Iain Dale, I have come in at a highly dubious number 16. In fact, if you simply rank the Tory aligned/right of centre bloggers/tweeters, I come in at number 6 (if Guido Fawkes is to be included in that list, and he doesn't really tweet anyway, he just has a feed from his site).
02 January 2009
It has not gone unnoticed by other members of my family that I have unilaterrally staked a claim to the title "Baillieu Blog" for this blog (despite the url being personal to me), but that I do not write much about my wider family. As it happens, I also maintain a more personal blog for my growing brood - The Baillieu Girls - (formerly, the Baillieu Twins) which has details of our newest addition to the family, but this is apparently not enough.
So to rectify matters, here is a set of photos taken earlier this week at the first gathering of all of my father's seven granddaughters (poor man, still longing for a grandson). They are, in order of birth, Ellie, Clare, Isabella, Francesca, Georgina, Jemima and Henrietta. As is apparent from the photos, Jemima was less than enthusiastic to sit still throughout the "photoshoot".