Hot Cross Buns and British Decline

HotCrossBuns

Are hot cross buns emblematic of the decline of British Society? When I was young hot cross buns were only available on Good Friday and possibly the day before. In Waitrose, they appeared just after Christmas. It is rather like the extended celebration of Guy Fawkes Night which is both tedious and unnecessary.

What I really lament, though, is the passing of the Baker’s Dozen which ensured that one received thirteen buns for the price of twelve. Even more generous was the baker’s half-dozen – seven for the price of six. No accountant would stand for that! Accountancy, although an important tool, has taken over every facet of our lives. It is not a productive industry; it sucks out what little profit British companies make and creates no wealth itself.

I made my own buns this year. They may not look very pretty but they do taste good. However, even they will be seen as a sign of decline by devout Christians and the pedants of all faiths and none. They don’t have crosses because, as an agnostic, I couldn’t be bothered. They are hot buns rather than hot cross buns and soon they will have cooled and be just buns.

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Funding Political Parties

Every time there is any suggestion of scandal relating to fundraising by political parties, commentators suggest that the answer is for the parties to be funded by the taxpayer. There are at least four good arguments against this:
  1. Politicians are a bunch of well-paid, self-serving egomaniacs. If they think their party is short of money they should stump up the cash themselves.
  2. Spending large sums of money on election campaigns does nothing to inform the public better. It is simply a form of advertising. The party with the best advertising campaign wins and the quality of the advertising campaign has little to do with how expensive it was or how good the party’s policies are.
  3. Where do you draw the line? The British National Party has, probably, the fifth largest share of the vote but it would surely be extremely obnoxious for the taxpayer to be obliged to fund its extremist campaigns.
  4. There is always a glimmer of hope that someone will create a new, more intelligent and more honest party. If this party, with no previous share of the vote, did not receive state funding, it would be at even more of a disadvantage than a new party would have been in the past.

Incidentally, another daft idea favoured by some is compelling people to vote. In some countries (including, I believe, Australia), any eligible voter who fails to vote is fined. If someone chooses not to vote it is because (i) they are unable to (through ill health, pressure of business or what-have-you), (ii) they don’t care, or (iii) they think there is nothing to choose between the candidates. Fining people for their inability to vote is clearly wrong. If voters don’t care or cannot choose between the candidates, forcing them to vote will force them to vote for someone they don’t want to vote for. It is entirely possible that they will choose someone because, say, he or she is the first name on the list. Such a vote will distort the electoral process and is therefore anti-democratic. The only reason for such legislation is to save politicians the embarrassment of a low turn-out.
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Bring Back Britannia (2)

I have previously commented on the absurdity of banning Britannia. Well, there is good news! The Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, is campaigning to bring back Britannia and has started a petition at http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/Britannia – hoorah!
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One Rule for Most of Us...

Years ago, it was very common for well-paid senior managers to set up limited companies. The company which previously employed them then contracted for their services through the new company. This arrangement saved the individuals quite a lot of income tax. To put it another way, it deprived the government of revenue which meant that all the other income tax payers had to pay more to make up for it. For obvious reasons, the tax authorities clamped down on this.

It now appears (see the Guardian report) that many senior civil servants (but they are not officially civil servants) have been doing this for years. Why has HMRC not been investigating these arrangements? I would be very surprised if they were all legal and above board.

There seems to be one law for the rich (i.e. senior civil servants – whatever they choose to call themselves) and another for the poor mugs who actually pay their wages.

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Not Worth Discussing

I won’t deign to discuss in detail the ridiculous spat between France and Britain over the credit ratings on government debt. French politicians actually managed to damage the market’s perception of France’s credit-worthiness by their foolish outbursts. They are right that many of the fundamentals are worse in the UK than in France. However, when they point to lower growth in the UK they ignore the fact that this is largely due to the UK’s deficit reduction strategy – at least we have one! Also, we have conducted proper stress tests on our banks, something which neither France nor Germany has done, with the result that the market can be fairly certain that the UK government will not be faced with bailing out banks again, something which cannot be said for France.
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Crazed Belgian


Guy Verhofstad, one of those awful career politicians who afflict all nations these days, represents a country which took 18 months to form a government because they couldn’t agree on anything but he thinks that the UK should have signed up for the ill-conceived Save the Euro Pact without question. Of course he does; the UK is a large net contributor to EU funds and Belgium is a large beneficiary of those funds. Why couldn’t we just hand over what little money we have left to little Belgium, whose economy is probably in worse shape than Greece’s?
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Britain is Not the Only Country with Reservations

Just in case anyone thought that Britain alone had reservations about the new Euro pact, Le Figaro reports that France’s Socialist Party contender for the presidency, François Holland, has stated that he will renegotiate the agreement if he wins the election. Unfortunately, while talking about the efficiency of the markets, he also emphasises the use of Eurobonds. These will not be acceptable to Germany, partly because they will discourage market efficiency, partly because Germany would end up shouldering most of the cost and partly because they simply won’t work.
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Now We Really Need to Worry

Le Figaro tells us (see here) that there will be a ‘Golden Rule’ to ensure that Euro Zone deficits are reduced. Who do we know who was famous for his Golden Rule? Why, Gordon Brown, of course, who did so much to destroy the British economy. He spoke of prudence while displaying great financial recklessness. Let us hope that this rule is more reliable than his.
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Cameron's Big Mistake

In this age of spin doctors it is remarkable how bad British politicians are at basic public relations. Blair, despite a great fondness both for spin doctors and himself, was pretty useless at PR and Cameron is proving himself equally useless.

Where he went wrong was not in refusing to sign the absurd Euro Auto-Destruction Pact but in failing to explain clearly to the world, and particularly European leaders, why he could not. He should also have emphasised repeatedly that he wanted the Euro to succeed, as he undoubtedly does.

Instead, millions of people are left with the impression that Britain is trying to destroy the Euro. This is very convenient for Merkozy, the true, if unintentional, architects of its destruction. It was they who repeatedly turned a blind eye to breaches of the rules, including (as Angela Merkel has admitted) by Germany itself. It was they who dithered when decisive action could have saved the Euro very easily.
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No-One Wants the Euro to Fail

With the possible exception of a few very stupid, very ill-informed or very mad people, no-one in Britain wants the Euro to fail. Any fleeting Schadenfreude at the collapse of this ill-conceived and ill-executed project would be quickly obliterated by the terrible impact on our own economy. I like to think, also, that we would feel rather more compassion for the Euro Zone countries than they have ever shown towards us.

Sadly, it seems almost inevitable that it will fail and we shall all be much the worse for it.
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Why Cameron Had to Say No

I am not a great fan of David Cameron. Just as Tony Blair modelled himself on Margaret Thatcher, Cameron seems to have modelled himself on Blair – glib, populist but not perhaps as egotistical as Blair.

Cameron has been vilified by the French press and much of the British press too for his refusal to sign up to the new pact which is intended to save the Euro, but he had little choice. If you are cynical, you could say that it would have been electoral suicide for him to have signed it (and I haven’t seen Sarkozy doing what he thought was right rather than what he thought would be popular). However, Cameron need not have worried about electoral suicide, as signing would probably have ensured that he would have been ousted by his backbenchers long before the next election. For all I know, hanging on to his job may have been a motivating factor for Cameron but it is unfair to assume that.

Ed Miliband (the Labour Party’s own Mr Bean) predictably attacked Cameron for his stance on this matter but if you read what he has said he doesn’t suggest that he would have signed up for this absurd pact. Of course he doesn’t, because Ed Miliband must know that it would be just as unpopular in the Labour Party as it is in the Conservative Party. He also knows that, however attractive the idea of taking some money away from those in financial services is, the proposed tax of financial transactions would be a financial catastrophe, not only for the UK but for the EU in general.

The EU’s own figures indicate that a financial transaction tax would cost the UK £25.5 billion and would have a detrimental impact on the EU’s GDP:

The model used to analyse the macroeconomic impacts suggests that at 0.1%, a transaction tax on securities could, without the application of mitigating effects, reduce future GDP growth in the long run by 1.76% of GDP and of 0.17% at a rate of 0.01%.

Now, these figures are little more than guess work, but they assume that between 70 and 90% of these transactions would move outside the EU. Since London is by far the most important financial centre in the EU, most of this loss of trade would be felt in the UK. And for what? To reduce the EU’s GDP.

Why would Merkozy propose such a suicidal tax? There are, I think, four possible explanations:

  1. Both France and Germany have long been jealous of Britain’s dominant position in the financial markets and they hope that by destroying the City of London they will benefit. It is hard to see how. Perhaps they would just leave the tax in place for long enough to destroy London’s dominance and then remove it.
  2. They are very, very stupid. Given their inability to sort out the problems of the Euro Zone this is a distinct possibility.
  3. It is a deliberate attempt to sideline Britain by proposing something which they knew could not be accepted by any British Prime Minister. This seems a distinct possibility. After all, the last thing that Merkel and Sarkozy need at the moment is anyone listening to British politicians, politicians who have dared to suggest that the Euro cannot survive. Although such a Machiavellian plot is not in any way uncharacteristic of the prevailing philosophy in Berlin and Paris, I can’t help wondering if the useless dimwits who have presided over the destruction of the Euro would be capable of anything so clever.
  4. A variation on 3 above. Merkozy think the Euro will fail and they want someone else to blame.
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French Lunacy

In a fine example of why the attempts to save the Euro are sure to fail... Read More...
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A Cunning Plan or a Modest Proposal?

I have what Baldrick would call a Cunning Plan... Read More...
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Housing – What is the answer?

It is easy to criticise the Government for its new housing policies but much harder to suggest solutions… Read More...
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Housing Policy Madness

The British Government is set to announce a new initiative to stimulate the housing market... Read More...
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Financial Transaction Taxes

You can always rely on the European Commission to come up with daft ideas... Read More...
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Labour's Secret Weapon

After the catastrophic mismanagement of the economy and other aspects of British society, the Labour Party should be facing a massive defeat at the next election. However, recent opinion polls have predicted a very slim majority for the Conservatives.

Let me introduce the Labour Party’s secret weapon: George Osborne MP, please stand up! I can’t quite work out whether the Shadow Chancellor is an imbecile. He throws up a lot of daft suggestions, but then so does Boris Johnson and I don’t really think Boris is an imbecile. Boris’s apparent barminess is an integral part of his persona; he has a certain wit and charm and, more importantly, his bumbling manner allows him to make abrupt changes of policy when he has encounters public opposition or realises belatedly that an idea isn’t quite as good as it appeared to be.

I do hope George Osborne will prove to be as adaptable as Boris. His latest - particularly preposterous - proposal is to sell off shares in the nationalised banks early at a discount. It is hard to envisage a more effective mechanism for transferring vast sums of money from the poor to the rich than this. Poor people have no spare cash lying around to buy shares, so only the rich will buy them - and they will be buying them from all the other taxpayers who cannot afford to buy them - at a discount!

Forget what I said before. I think I can work out whether George Osborne is an imbecile.
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Why I Shan't be Voting Labour

The Labour government under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown has been a complete disaster on so many levels that it is hard to choose any specific reason to get rid of them, but here are a few:

  1. The invasion of Iraq on the specious ground that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. If Tony Blair didn’t realise that this was wrong, he should have. He even ignored warnings from the security services that invading Iraq would make Britain less secure. As predicted, it has stimulated recruitment of islamic terrorists (a term banned by the BBC).
  2. Gordon Brown’s raid on on pension funds, which was used to finance ill-conceived and grandiose public spending schemes and social engineering (another term for buying votes).
  3. Disastrous Public Finance Initiative schemes which will see vast outflows from the tax payer to private companies for many decades to come. How these shabby confidence tricks accord with Brown’s much-vaunted Presbyterian Conscience it is hard to conceive. From the outset PFI schemes (originally devised by the Tories) have been constructed to place the risk with the taxpayer and the rewards with private companies. A particularly shameful example (although there are many others) is the London Underground PFI scheme which has not only delivered pitifully little but has also landed the London taxpayer with an enormous bill when the Metronet consortium went into administration. The other Underground PFI consortium, Tube Lines, is way behind schedule and has been trying to extract more money from the Tax Payer.
  4. The disastrous tripartite system of controlling financial services which left each of the three responsible parties - the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FSA - confused about its role.

I could go on.
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Integrity

Tony Blair bleated about attacks on his integrity at the time of the Kelly Inquiry. Will he have the temerity to bleat again, now that the former Director of Public Prosecutions has put into words what so many of us were thinking?

Kevin Macdonald QC said:

It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner George Bush and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn’t want, and on a basis that it’s increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible.
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Iraq

Revelations about the invasion of Iraq just keep on coming. Sir John Scarlett told the inquiry into the invasion that intelligence indicating that battlefield munitions could be made ready in 45 minutes were misinterpreted by the government as referring to chemical or biological weapons - WMDs.

Now Tony Blair has disclosed that he would have thought it right to invade Iraq even if he’d known that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

I would be the first to admit that Saddam Hussein was a very unpleasant dictator (although this didn’t stop the US government from backing him for many years) but the UK and US broke international law in the most flagrant way. Their actions will be used as an excuse to annex attractive neighbouring countries by despots the world over. British security services warned the government before the invasion that it would increase rather than decrease the terrorist threat to the UK and there is every reason to believe that they were right.

This has been one of the most disreputable foreign escapades since the days of Cecil Rhodes.
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Bus Passes

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a change to the age at which buss passes will be issued. I shall not now get mine until I am 63. GRRR!
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Ann Widdicombe

Many months ago I wrote a long, rambling and rather intemperate letter to Ann Widdicombe MP about some remarks she made on Radio 4 concerning MPs’ expenses. I shan’t go into the details but I was most impressed by her long and detailed reply. I didn’t agree with everything she said but she made her points well.

I do not share her politics or her religious views (my own opinion being that all religion is just the most foolish peasant superstition, and no branch of Christianity more so than Catholicism) but I admire her honesty and integrity. She was in no way caught up in the expenses scandal herself and it is a great pity that she is planning to stand down at the next election.
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Right Said Fred

I have underestimated Sir Fred Goodwin again. His pension is now apparently £703,000 per annum. Moreover, it appears that about half the amount was discretionary. So why did they pay it? The decision was apparently made in the early hours of the morning and the Government were not informed. The Chairman and the Remuneration Committee certainly have some explaining to do, and it would seem quite in order for the British Government, as the largest shareholder, to sue them. It won’t get the money back but it may serve to encourager les autres.

However, compared with the vast sums which the Government itself has squandered, and continues to squander, Sir Fred’s pension is unimportant. Having devised a scheme, the Public Finance Initiative, to rob the taxpayer blind while cooking the Government’s books, the Government is now going to bail out the very companies which made so much money from the scheme in the first place.

If it is right that Sir Fred should be hounded into returning at least some of his pension, it is surely even more appropriate that senior ministers and mandarins be expected to forego at least half their pensions.
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