28 November 2014

I can think of a worse epitaph

Ruth Rendell on PD James (here):
She will always live through her books. But for me she will be also be remembered for being such a nice woman.


27 November 2014


Well, it's a start:
The Scottish parliament is to be handed direct control over billions of pounds of income tax and welfare benefits after an £11bn cross-party deal which will lead to the biggest shakeup to Britain’s taxation system in the modern era.
The historic move, which had been resisted by the Labour leadership in London, means powers to set income tax rates and bands are to be wholly devolved to Holyrood as the pro-UK parties move to outflank the Scottish National party, which has surged in popularity since the referendum on Scottish independence.
But not all the way;
But Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, who are expected to offer broad support for the commission while saying the details will need to be studied with care, have decided to bite the bullet to avoid a further slide in Labour support in Scotland.
It is understood that Balls won two important concessions that will give comfort to the Labour leadership in London. The personal tax allowance – the amount of income people can earn before they pay tax – will remain a UK matter that will continue to be decided by the chancellor of exchequer and voted on by MPs at Westminster.
This will make it impossible for a Scottish finance secretary to do what chancellors have done in the past – announce an income tax cut and pay for it by changing the personal allowance.
In the second key concession, it is understood that the commission will say that there is still a UK income tax system.
It may well be the case that "there is still a UK income tax system" but that unitary system will potentially have to cope with making differential tax deductions from employees according to their country of residence.  I do not know enough about the technicalities, but I imagine that will amount to a massive change in payroll systems for those companies which have employees in both Scotland and England, as well as for the Inland Revenue tax coding systems.

But let us await the details to be announced later this morning.


24 November 2014

Quote of the day

Lily Allen (here):
Lily Allen has become the latest artist to criticise the Band Aid single in aid of the Ebola crisis, revealing that she refused to appear on it because she considered it smug and preferred to donate “actual money”.
The outspoken Allen has previously described Band Aid’s co-founder, Bob Geldof, as a “sanctimonious prat”, but she still received a request to appear on the latest incarnation of the single, released 30 years after the original.
“It’s difficult to give an explanation why I didn’t do it without sounding like a complete cunt,” she told the Mail on Sunday.

Good for her.


21 November 2014

Vote Tory, get UKIP?

Interesting times:
Cameron would prefer not to share power with Ukip. What matters is the price at which he could bring himself to do it in an emergency. Does he distance himself from Farage out of rhetorical expediency or because he finds the man and his party fundamentally objectionable? Is there a line of anti-European, anti-immigrant rhetoric he won’t cross?
The answer to those questions – and how a majority of Tory MPs might answer them – will tell undecided voters a lot about the character of the party and its leader. And the question will get harder to avoid. The Tories have been eager to argue that supporting Ukip could accidentally ease Miliband’s path to power, in the belief that such a prospect will send dissident Conservative voters scurrying home to Cameron’s camp. But the proposition can just as easily be reversed as a warning to anyone who thinks Ukip rhetoric is beyond the pale but is tempted to back the Tories. Vote Cameron, Get Farage? The prime minister used to rule it out. It is revealing that he no longer can.


20 November 2014

Turning back the clock

Charlie won't shut up:
Prince Charles is ready to reshape the monarch’s role when he becomes king and make “heartfelt interventions” in national life in contrast to the Queen’s taciturn discretion on public affairs, his allies have said.
In signs of an emerging strategy that could risk carrying over the controversy about his alleged meddling in politics into his kingship, sources close to the heir say he is set to continue to express concerns and ask questions about issues that matter to him, such as the future of farming and the environment, partly because he believes he has a duty to relay public opinion to those in power.
“He will be true to his beliefs and contributions,” said a well-placed source who has known him for many years. “Rather than a complete reinvention to become a monarch in the mould of his mother, the strategy will be to try and continue with his heartfelt interventions, albeit checking each for tone and content to ensure it does not damage the monarchy. Speeches will have to pass the following test: would it seem odd because the Queen wouldn’t have said it or would it seem dangerous?”

17 November 2014

Vladi No-mates

I doubt if the modern day Ebenezer Scrooge enjoyed his pre-Christmas holiday in Australia:
Vladimir Putin quit the G20 summit in Brisbane early saying he needed to get back to work in Moscow on Monday after enduring hours of browbeating by a succession of Western leaders urging him to drop his support for secessionists in eastern Ukraine.
What we need now is for the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future to visit the Kremlin ...


15 November 2014

Rosetta and Philae

The Guardian gets carried away with itself:
The human instinct to anthropomorphise does not confine itself to cute animals, as anyone who has seen the film Wall-E can testify. If Pixar could make us well up for a waste-disposing robot, it’s little wonder the European Space Agency has had us empathising with a lander ejected from its “mothership”, identifiable only by its “spindly leg”. In those nervous hours, many will have been rooting for Philae, imagining it on that cold, hard surface yearning for sunlight, its beeps of data slowly petering out as its strength faded.


Doesn't sound like fun

That sandwich factory that's been hiring Hungarians:
Working in Greencore’s Northampton factory is a chilling business. In temperatures ranging from distinctly nippy to sub-zero, employees work shifts of up to 12 hours, often overnight, laying thousands of pieces of tomato on sandwiches for customers including Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Asda.
The money isn’t good. Workers who pass their three-month probation earn “cold money” to compensate for the teeth-chattering temperatures. An employee on the minimum wage gets an extra 24p an hour for chillier conditions, 48p if their environment is classed as cold and 68p if they are in a freezer. Greencore says few workers stay on the minimum wage.
But the boss class does alright:
Greencore’s boss Patrick Coveney was paid £1.3m last year, including £626,000 salary and £418,000 bonus. 
Still, I suppose that working for Greencore is better than plucking the leaves - one by one - off the trees outside Parliament.     

12 November 2014

Quote of the day

From Mrs Cameron's diary:
Well I said to Mummy everything is getting *quite* Shakespearean, that part about uneasy lying the whatever, she’s like is there a prime minister in King Lear, I was like, well I would ask Govey except it is totally his fault, & Theresa’s, obvs, Dave feels dreadfully let down, even Mr Cobber could have been more helpful? Considering what he is paid? Dave was like, Lynton, what do I DO, Mr Cobber’s like, not a clue mate, that May bird what do you expect, women eh, but you said the speccy one whatsisname was a genius? Dave’s like, well Govey IS, kind of, Mr Cobber is like, suit yourself mate, sorting your fecking nutters is way above my pay grade, but word of advice? Dave’s like, please, what is it Lynton? Mr Cobber’s like, that penguin suit, was you auditioning for a John Lewis ad, haha Lynton’s joke, but seriously, strategist hat on, just don’t, OK, fucks up the optics, now if you’ll excuse me I need to talk to a Mr Fullbrook about some fags?

Bit of a circus

The Guardian neatly explains the shambles in the House of Commons the night before last:
It was parliament at its best, which is also its worst. The debate was passionate, the drama intense. And no one beyond the chamber could reasonably be expected to understand what the hell was going on. The short version: MPs arrived in the Commons on Monday afternoon expecting a debate on the European arrest warrant. They discovered that the government motion had been worded to cover a range of other European Union criminal justice measures – but not the thing Eurosceptics most wanted to argue over.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, deployed an ancient procedural device to derail the whole debate (on the grounds that it was on the wrong rails to begin with). So the question before MPs became whether to vote to not vote on something that was not the thing they had come to vote on in the first place.
Irate Eurosceptics threatened to side with Labour. Conservative whips fired off panicky text messages summoning absent MPs. David Cameron had to abandon the Lord Mayor of London’s banqueting table and race to the Commons, striding through the lobby in white tie and tail coat. It was the right costume for a rarefied legislative farce.
Legislative farce indeed.  Do the politicians ever contemplate how their actions appear to the general public?   Is it any wonder that confidence in the mother of parliaments is diminishing by the day?


08 November 2014

Quote of the day

Miliband indulges his inner Baldrick:
 “Labour will fight and win this election street by street, house by house, taking our case to the people on every issue … As we enter the last lap before the general election, Labour will show in towns and cities across Britain that we have a plan to answer the deep problems faced by so many families."
But is it a cunning plan?

07 November 2014

Smoke and mirrors

I don't blame him for putting a bit of spin on the result. But even The Spectator is doubtful:
Here’s what Osborne left out: the UK will still owe the full £1.7 billion, only not all in December, and would be able to quickly offset the cost with its rebate on EU contributions.
EU Commission vice president Kristalina Georgieva explained at a press conference later on Friday that the EU plans to amend its budget rules to allow for flexibility in ‘exceptional years’, when gross income exceeds previous estimates as the UK’s did this budget year. For the UK, Georgieva said this means the payment period for the £1.7 billion sum ‘will be stretched into the next year, and when this happens, then the payment and the rebate on the payment could converge.’
But does Osborne need to look so damned pleased with himself?


All talk and no trousers

How much worse does it have to get?  He talks big but does very little:
The European Central Bank is ready to pump up to €1tn (£782bn) of fresh stimulus into the flagging eurozone economy to ward off a dangerous deflationary spiral, Mario Draghi has signalled.
Draghi, the ECB’s president, said on Thursday that the bank’s governing council was unanimously willing to announce more unconventional measures, signalling the possibility of creating electronic money – or quantitative easing – should a deteriorating economy make it necessary.
Speaking in Frankfurt, he said: “Should it become necessary to further address risks of too prolonged a period of low inflation, the governing council is unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments within its mandate. “The governing council has tasked ECB staff and the relevant eurosystem committees with ensuring the timely preparation of further measures to be implemented, if needed.”
And the band played believe it if you like ...


05 November 2014

The benefits of EU immigration

This is worth remembering the next time UKIP or the Tories start banging on about the iniquities of migrants from the EU and their cost to the public purse:
European migrants to the UK are not a drain on Britain’s finances and pay out far more in taxes than they receive in state benefits, a new study has revealed.
The research by two leading migration economists at University College also reveals that Britain is uniquely successful, even more than Germany, in attracting the most highly skilled and highly educated migrants in Europe.
The study, the Fiscal Impact of Immigration to the UK, published in the Economic Journal, reveals that more than 60% of new migrants from western and southern Europe are now university graduates. The educational levels of east Europeans who come to Britain are also improving with 25% of recent arrivals having completed a degree compared with 24% of the UK-born workforce.
It says that European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011. Those from the original 15 EU countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, contributed 64% – £15bn more in taxes than they received in welfare – while east European migrants contributed 12%, equivalent to £5bn more.
Do you suppose it might lead to the UK government adopting a more sensible approach to EU matters?  No, nor do I.


03 November 2014

Music of the week

As ever, like ...

h/t Paul

It depends on who talked to him last

It's a bit of a mess.  First he waves a big stick and then he puts it away.   The Guardian reports:
David Cameron has been warned by German chancellor Angela Merkel that she would rather see the UK leave the European Union than change freedom of movement rules, according to reports.
Downing Street on Sunday did not deny that the conversation had taken place, after German newspaper Der Spiegel said Merkel had rejected Cameron’s demands for a cap on unskilled migrants. Sources told the newspaper that the chancellor said demands for any changes to freedom of movement rules represented a “point of no return” and that this would be it for the UK’s membership.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Times also reported that the prime minister has dropped plans for quotas in a bid to placate the Germans and that Cameron is now looking at whether the government can ask EU immigrants to leave the country unless they can support themselves within three months of arriving in the UK.
It comes amid speculation that Cameron is rowing back from his focus and tough language on immigration amid fears that the Conservatives will never be able to go as far as Ukip supporters want. 

Perhaps if Mr Cameron spent more time on the substance and less on the appearance, he might avoid getting stuck in cul de sacs ...