07 June 2010

New Baillieu Blog on the Block

I am a bit fearful that due to her status as a successful editor and journalist, my sister's new blog is going to have far more traffic than my humble offering. Luckily I have still a head start of several years and some 145 posts, so I am happy to give her a bit of free publicity.

Also, I love the name:

If you want to be comfortable, go to bed

One baby eating urban fox proves nothing

The story last night of the 9 month old twins being attacked by a fox while they were sleeping in their cot in their home in Hackney sent shivers down my spine. 

Once my spine had stopped shivering, my next reaction was to think about the impact such a story will have on the image of foxes, particularly the urban variety.

Some of us, me in particular, regard the urban fox as one of life's annoyances.  Some of them live in the communal gardens near our house. I've seen them running down the road, bold as brass, playing with each other and I have scooped up the contents of our shredded bin bags outside our front door - as well as enjoyed the smell of their urine on the door step.  For me, foxes belong in the countryside where they can be trapped, shot or even accidentally hunted by dogs.  But this is not a post about hunting.

Other people take a different view and see a handsome animal charmingly bringing a hint of the countryside to their city. They leave food out in their gardens and delight in how close they dare come to humans. They are almost like pets.

I accept that such people would make the perfectly valid assertion that an attack by a fox on humans - even very small ones - is so rare it is virtually unheard of. More people are attacked - and children killed or maimed - by domestic dogs - or for that matter their own parents, step parents, foster carers and other assorted random nutters in a single year than the total record for fox attacks (I assume).

The reaction I was not expecting was one of complete denial. However, if you visit the home page of the Save-me campaign (sponsored by Brian May, the guitarist off Queen), this is what you will find. Brian's first post to the campaign's facebook page read
"Fox attacks babies ? Sure ! And monkeys will fly ...... out of my butt. Ha ha. And I suppose there is proof ? !!! What a piece of work is Man. love Bri".  
As of now, 238 people "liked" this note and 241 commented. Once Brian had established that there was in fact proof he wrote a more "serious" note which started:
"Well, I don't have enough information to know whether this is an attempt by somebody to turn people against foxes, or not.
This note opened the floodgates to a further 213 comments ("likes" down to 126) many of which were sceptical about the truth of the original story on the basis that foxes simply DO NOT attack humans.

Of course, this reaction of denial would be no less irrational than calls for a massacre of urban foxes on the grounds that they are a danger to small babies. 

But by nature we are irrational when faced with freakish events.  Some find solace in conspiracy theories which allow them to pretend that the event in question has a different cause with which they can cope more easily.  Others call for drastic action to ensure that the incredibly rare event can never happen again.  These calls are often irresistably populist and end up in bad legislation - or in the case of 9/11 - war.  

With this in mind, I had some sympathy for the senior policeman defending the actions of his unarmed officers who were in contact with Derrick Bird while he was rampaging around Cumbria, but were unable to stop him.  Like he said, these were "exceptional circumstances" and sometimes it is impossible to draw any lessons.

So, it would be irrational to view foxes as any less cuddly following this incident.  Brian May, on the other hand....

19 May 2010

Second Homes and Capital Gains Tax

The Bank of England in Threadneedle Street, Lo...The Bank of England - not my second home. Image via Wikipedia
It would seem that a huge amount of rubbish is being written about the widely trailed plans to restore the link between the rates applied to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Income Tax, in particular the apparent concerns of all those people - each of them apparently a core Conservative voter - who own second homes.

At the weekend, David Cameron is reported to have said that second home ownership was not "splendid" for the economy. Of course, in many areas there are concerns that second home owners are pricing out the locals who have to move far away - fishermen can no longer afford Fisherman's Cottage, and the local vicars can barely afford the new Rectory, let alone the Old Rectory which was sold off years ago.

But without going into the rights or wrongs of second home ownership, the idea that somehow these people will "suffer" if their GAIN on the sale of the property is taxed at the same rate of income is quite bizarre.  Property ownership in the UK has been, over the long term, a good one-way bet for many years.  There is no risk taking with this sort of "investment", which is, to coin a phrase, as safe as houses. Although frankly, the idea that a second home (as opposed to a buy-to-let investment) is in fact an "investment" is pretty odd.

On the other hand, it was the last Labour government (hiss, boo) which created the anomaly of taxing captial gains at a lower rate to income (whether earned or not) and did away with many of the distinctions between business and non-business assets - and dismantled the reliefs (taper and indexation) which rewarded those who held investments for the long term.  Instead the new 18% rate was available for any asset, no matter how long it had been held. This encouraged some people to arrange their affairs so that income became a capital gain (and taxed accordingly) or to invest for capital growth rather than a steady income return - which surely pushed up property prices.

So when George Osborne looks at the detail of the CGT realignment with Income Tax, it would be extremely sensible if taper relief and indexation allowances are restored, and that the exemptions, such as Entrepreneurs Relief and schemes such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme are maintained to encourage investment in real businesses. As CGT rates rise, these schemes will make investment in real businesses all the more attractive, which should be widely welcomed.
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11 May 2010

Welcome to the Democratic Conservative Alliance Party!

So last night I made a gloomy return to blogging after a long absence, but in the last 24 hours the political landscape has improved for those of us who have longed to see the rise of the Democratic Conservative Alliance Party (DCAP) - a new type of government which looks as though it is about to take is in power in the UK.

In many ways, DCAP is the perfect party of government in the UK.  Far from there being an "progressive majority" in this country, the more considered view is that there has always been a moderate conservative majority, the inheritors of the Whig party whose supporters have been found for the last 100 years in the socially liberal wing of the Tory party and the capitalist wing of various other parties, from the old Liberals, through the SDP, and to an extent, New Labour (RIP).

DCAP is the inheritor of One Nation Conservatism and conservative Trade Unionism - a party which believes in society's responsibility for the those in need but also understands that a strong society is not always, if ever, a function of government. DCAP provides support for all those of every political persuasion who understand that social activism can be an end in itself. Although socially liberal, DCAP respects traditional values and seeks political reform through wider consensus rather than by diktat.  

DCAP may be decried as as a return to Butskellism but against the backdrop of the supply side reforms of the 1980s it will be about regrouping our resources for growth and not managing decline.  For sure, there are tensions, perhaps irreconcilable on European policy, but these too could be healthy since it is unlikely that anyone in Britain (or Northern Europe for that matter) will be rushing headlong in closer economic or political union until much of Europe has undergone the same far reaching economic reform we worked through 30 years ago.

Although David Cameron is its perfect leader, DCAP is a construction of my imagination and two parties will continue to co-exist, cohabiting Whitehall.  If the Liberal Democrats have any sense whatsoever (and after the last 5 days that is very much an unresolved question), they will position themselves as the "voice of reason" on the shoulders of the Tory party and when they next face the electorate take credit for being the moderating influence on a successful government and manage to increase their share of the vote and number of seats.

If the Tories are lucky, the Lib Dems will terminate the relationship over an issue which plays badly for them with the electorate and the Tories will return to government alone.

Meanwhile the Labour Party is retreating to lick its wounds, select its third new leader in as many years, and hoping that DCAP will be a disaster riven with division.  However, it clings to the miscalculation that every Lib Dem vote was an anti-Tory vote.  In many Lib Dem / Labour marginals, it may well have been an anti-Labour vote and Lib Dem incumbents will increase their majorities (as they have done against Tories, despite the national swing) as they paint themselves as progressives who can influence the Tories positively.

Many of us in the Tory party thought a "short spell" in opposition would be good for "healthy renewal" - and a fat lot of good that was.  But history shows that Conservative governments are generally long lasting - the only 4 year stretch was in 1974, which was on the heels of a shock victory for Heath - and I sincerely hope and believe that this one will be too.
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10 May 2010

The Conservative Party - my role in its success

Election night 2010 (May) was an excruciating kind of tourture for those of us who had been waiting all our adult lives to vote for a Tory government. What started off so well in Sunderland and Kingswood quickly turned into concern in Torbay, disappointment in Tooting, despair in Westminster North finally disaster in Wells and Eastbourne. Not that there weren't any bright spots in the evening as some friends and colleagues from long ago entered Parliament for the first time but as the sun came up on Friday morning all hopes of an historic car journey from Notting Hill to Buckingham Palace were dashed.

Having been a party activist in my time, I resolved to do more at the next election, which could be very soon (this year perhaps) and wondered what difference I could have made had I done more this time around. Or whether I was better off staying well out.

Looking at my record, it must admitted, it is bleak and it may be that I do more harm than good.

I was born in 1976, so could not have had an impact on any election prior to that. The first three elections of my life were in 1979, 1983 and 1987. These were all great elections for the Tories but I was far too young to have been involved.  By 1992, aged 16, I was interested in politics and was keen to see John Major re-elected. However, any chance of campaigning was scuppered by a school trip to Australia. I missed the excitement of election night and only picked up the results and tit bits such as the loss of Chris Patten from Australian National Radio.

By 1997 I was old enough to vote and had become firmly involved with the Conservatives. I was chairman of the student branch at Bristol University and spent most of my Easter holidays (and the first few weeks of the summer term) campaigning, if not for a Tory win, at least to save Bristol West and its sitting MP, cabinet minister William Waldegrave.  I could not have done more but we fell short by around 1500 votes and the seat went red in the massive landslide which swept Blair to power.

2001 was another bleak year for the Tories. I had started work in the City but had been hired to build websites for seven Tory candidates.  Six of those candidates lost, including one in Ludlow which had been held in 1997, and was regained again in 2005.  My only winner was in Taunton, which was promptly lost again in 2005....

My involvement was scaled back in 2005 and although Labour returned to power, it was with a reduced majority.

Which brings us to 2010 - the best Tory result in years but not quite good enough. I went to at least one fundraiser, gave money to various candidates and evangelised to friends and my wider network and enthusiastically tweeted in support. 

I'm now wondering if I jinxed it.