November 2007


As two current threads on equality are unravelling to marvellous effect for one and all – by golly, we’ve learnt a lot - I thought it must be time to have a canter through the darker, cobwebbier corners of the People’s Republic and explain my own prejudices. Because I am aware in all discussions like those I have linked to, that I am coming from a slightly different angle, and if I sound a little ratty in what follows, I think it’s the cumulative effect of being subtly and continuously, over several years, told so. 

It’s a commonplace that some women are outraged when other women (particularly intelligent and beautiful ones, for some reason, as if that makes the tiniest bean of difference) claim not to be feminists. Jo A repeats this. On balance I would say that I am a feminist, for the simple reason that feminism grew out of the pressing need for equal pay, equal opportunities, and a healthier perception of the importance of women’s role as family-makers. We haven’t achieved those things, they are the sine qua non of a civilised society as all sane people agree, ergo, I am a feminist.

But I have never had any patience with the notion that I should therefore conform to angry and impassioned typecasting, react to all criticism as an insult to Woman, or that I should like some people more than others just because we have ovaries in common.* I understand – over the last day I have understood much better – why some women are absolutely compelled by their own histories to approach feminism in this way. Which is fine, but it doesn’t work for me, and no amount of hectoring will change that. That highly self-conscious feminism - wimminism, if you will -  seems to me to put limitations on the individual, and also undermines the dignity of womanhood in general. It is a simple psychological truth that as a set of people women are no less varied in temperament, in character, in beliefs, in thought patterns than men – why are we still inclined to straitjacket ourselves into one pattern of progressive womanhood? And I know I am not alone in this. For every nexus of wimminism, there is a hesitant woman on the sidelines saying in a very small voice, But that’s not me, that’s not how I think. Does that make me a bad person? Of course not. 

Wimminism is something I have only really become aware of since leaving university. I was in single-sex education from age 13, then went on to a college with a very proud women’s tradition (mutters, and Margaret Thatcher as an alumna, gyaaargh), and Oxbridge women are (let’s face it) an exceptionally mixed bag, so I had no trouble finding others like me who were more interested, always, in going ahead and doing the thing rather than talking about it. The flipside of this privileged upbringing, of course, is that while I am by no means from a wealthy background, and went to a state school, I nevertheless spent my formative years in a “nice” environment, where it was never intimated to me for a moment that I couldn’t be as good as or better than men. It’s a testament to my education, my parents and the happy socio-economic stars of my birth that I am extremely, extremely unscrewed-up about this.

But it has totally screwed me in another way. I can’t fit in with self-consciously feminist women now. Ever since leaving university, I have encountered a sense of being excluded from groups of women for somehow not being quite right, being a little bit frighteningly different. I wasn’t particularly a tomboy, I had and have perfectly good and sane relationships with both my parents, and I’m straight (well, straightish) – it’s not any of that. I just don’t fit into any of the pigeonholes that many women, it seems to me, actively seek to climb into in a sort of communal comfort exercise. As a result, I find I am far more natural and happy, far more myself, sitting around with a bunch of men than with a bunch of women, unless I go far enough back with the women to know that they accept me as I am. That automatic confidence that people will like you just isn’t there when I sit down with a group of women, because I know quite well that some of them are going to find me a bit odd, too rational, not angry enough, with altogether the wrong sense of humour, in short, just a little too damn much like a man. And the sense of personal slight I have occasionally encountered as a result does tend, to be honest, to put me off devoting my own resources to tackling inequality problems.

So for future reference, this is my pitch for equality. I think vocal feminism would do well to remember that human dignity – for everyone - lies in our being individuals. For that reason, and because feminism has not so far made those final steps towards equal pay and equal opportunity, I believe liberalism, and not feminism, is the creed that ultimately will change women’s lives, and it’s on that basis that I think we should proceed.

* I mean, that we both have ovaries. Two each, hopefully. Not that we share them. That would just be weird.

Gordon Brown’s statement yesterday on the David Abrahams scandal has made everything perfectly clear. I’m afraid I don’t have it verbatim as I heard it on the news several hours ago:

It was completely unacceptable and cannot be justified by anyone, not even Chris Paul.

Something like that, anyway.

Can anyone tell me who precisely was responsible for coining the phrase “positive discrimination”? Google has been barren.

It is a phrase that attempts to evade responsibility for its own meaning. If it’s positive it can’t be that bad can it? Well yes, because a positive necessarily entrains a negative. Discrimination is still discrimination whatever zingy adjective you put in front of it. If we envisage positive discrimination as a possible route forward for our party, not only do we risk derision for undermining the whole basis of liberalism, we are also discriminating, and no-one who advocates it should be allowed to forget this.

We are discriminating against people who are unlucky enough to be born without ovaries (you poor blossoms) and people who are unlucky enough to be born with fewer dark skin pigments than others. Not good enough for us, I think.

Happily for the reader, others with better notes and more sense have already been blogging on the substance of last night’s London leadership hustings while I was busily engaged in eating a bowl of cous-cous and singing gently to myself. I am therefore free to kick back with a few disorderly observations. We’ve all done policy to death over the last few weeks (well, every bugger else has, I’ve just been reading and tutting). No-one with an ounce of sanity doubts that these are two highly intelligent, able, confident potential leaders and most people I have spoken to are rightly happy with either prospect. For me, as for a lot of us, it’s going to come down to presentation and selectivity of content.

You can tell a lot about a man if you look at him from the side. I arrived late and was forced into a seat of unlovely prominence, perching right up by the stage like a particularly keen and swotty budgerigar in a school for budgerigars. This had the advantage that I could scan the rest of the budgies to see how they were taking it (very well, for the most part, except when Nick mentioned positive discrimination and we all turned into stuffed budgies; you could have heard a seed drop).

The disadvantage was that, owing to said prominence and the notepad on my knee (I was working on my novel in dull moments) I think Nick may have identified me as a journalist. I was near a phalanx of them, and the flashbulbs started popping around me like mad when Nick stepped up for his speech – far more than for Chris. It was revealing, sitting there. This man plays it scruffy-natural-ordinary-person-liberal (“Gosh!”) but he knows how to pause mid-sentence for a photo op, and he knows how to meet one’s eye and address the journos directly. After a slightly (deliberately?) nervous start he gave a top speech and he knew it, and he was watching us know it. If he really did think I was a journalist of course, he must have been very encouraged to see that I kept breaking into applause. I can also confirm that he does move around at the podium – but on a front-back axis, rather than side-to-side, like a man who has set his running machine too fast. Someone needs to turn the running machine through ninety degrees and he’ll be as perfect a speechifier as there can be, certainly streets ahead of Broon and Macaroon.

Reservations: there were three malapropisms that I spotted, a habit which journalists will make play with. “Arrogance” when he meant “anger” (translated specially for Liberal Polemic), “authoritative” when he meant “authoritarian” and perhaps worst of all:

We are an internationalist party if we are nothing

You can transpose “or” for “if”, or “anything” for “nothing” according to preference. Still, we all clapped. We knew what he meant. Yes, it’s the sign of a friendly audience, but it’s also a testament to his empathy that he can make slips like that and still successfully get a point across. Watching Nick was like watching a great but nervy actor, in both the speech and the Q&A. There were moments when it was hanging in the air slightly, moments when the audience was holding its breath to see if he would come out with the right word, and there were undoubtedly moments where the good will of the audience saw him through. But you feel rewarded for your participatory efforts at the end.

The main contrast between the two last night was that Chris didn’t put any strain on the stress levels at all. From the moment he stepped up you knew you were in the hands of a master. Even though his speech was, for my money, less well underpinned by a good structure than Nick’s, his delivery was pure class and that made up for it. He told us what he thought and he told us why, something I have responded to right from the off. The reason he gets more applause than Nick, I now realise, is that his speeches are better and more conventionally timed for applause – twenty seconds, point made pause, applause, on continuous rotation. Nick will talk for forty seconds or more, feel his way to the end of his sentence, and sometimes the hard-hitting phrases have come in the middle of it, so that by the time you get to the end applause is no longer quite the thing.

In amongst the usual Chris stuff, there was a lovely touch I hadn’t heard before about liberties our grandparents fought for being given away, and I have found his emphasis on radicalism convincing from the beginning. It isn’t good enough to disbelieve him on the grounds that one’s conception of radicalism doesn’t fit the image of the man – the adjective “grey” gets bandied around about Chris, as if this precludes him from radicalism, and it’s tantamount to ageism. No shit, Sherlock, he’s got grey hair, that’s what happens to human beings. Surely we don’t want to go down the American route here?

He also made tactical points I’ve heard from him before that make good sense to me. In answer to a good question about younger people turning towards the Tories, he rightly identified it as partly a matter of style. This is why his radicalism stance is relevant. As a former journalist, he is well-placed to understand about memes and about generating an “everybody is talking about…” mood. On a related question about young people not voting, he correctly changed the question into one of more general apathy. There’s a lot of lazy-ass talk on the subject of the yoof vote, as if they are a weird and particular audience who need to be able to do everything via Facebook or they won’t bother. Chris doesn’t fall into that trap. If a party and its politics are relevant, then they’re relevant no matter how old you are.

Reservations: I felt Chris was slightly more inclined to waffle than Nick in the Q&A. I noticed yesterday when I was transcribing the online hustings (nearly done, Will!) that someone has taken Nick to one side and taught him the Two Points trick. Actually, it’s more commonly used as a Three Point trick. You can nearly always think of a main point and an ancillary point in answer to any question. And by the time you’ve got to the end of those, you’ve probably thought of a third point, and you’re done. So you always start by saying, “I have two/three points” and instantly your audience have a route map. As soon as Nick imposes a bit of structure on his ideas, however artificially (of course there are always more than two points to make about anything) he starts talking with real clarity. Chris has structure and clarity in spades usually, but it wasn’t on great display in the Q&A last night.

Second, oh for the love of god, those bloody limousines! Get rid of them! If I hear that one more time, or anything to do with herding any variety of professional from either of you I shall send in the People’s Republican Guard.

Third, and my only serious reservation about Chris: in his speech he said he made no apology for having based his campaign first and foremost on the environment. And nor should he, except for the tiny inconvenient detail that he hasn’t. He’s based it partly on Trident and public services, and partly on communication. I’m going to trot out my interpretation of all that school vouchers nonsense again because I increasingly think it’s the right one. He wasn’t trying to have a policy argument that baffled even the best-informed with its esotericism. He was trying (badly) to point out that Nick’s stance is often open to interpretation because of his communication style, and that in a party with as little press coverage as this, we can’t afford that kind of uncertainty. Last night he emphasised that no journalist would ever be in any doutb about what he thought. He’s right, and up until the Newsnight piece I would have written Nick off on this count alone. How I wish Chris had applied a little of this logic to his environmental emphasis. There is so much that is interesting to be said about how we take forward our brilliant environmental agenda – and a lot of it has been said by Nick. It’s Chris’ pet thing, and he’s the radical, as I’ve said before. Why hasn’t he been selling it proudly to us and to the occasionally slightly interested nation?

I’m still not decided. I started as Huhne-soft, got to self-identifying as a Huhnista, but Nick’s performance on Newsnight was superb and he was superb again at last night’s hustings. But actually I may just end up sticking a pin in the ballot paper because, having seen them in real life for the first time (aw, little me!) I am all the more convinced that, as Millennium would say, they are BOTH REALLY VERY GOOD!

A while back, there was a scary lady on the news. She was the representative of something ominously called the Optimum Population Trust. Her hair rose a good six inches above her head, and she was almost certainly from Surrey.

The Optimum Population Trust’s website is nicely done out in pink. The Trust appears to be a selfless consortium of the environmentally concerned and socially responsible. Concerned about the speed of global warming? it asks, About the effects of overpopulation on a plundered planet?

Well, I, er… About the UK’s failure to stabilise its own population? Ahhhh.

Just below these probing entreaties is a world population counter that ticks away like a tolerance timebomb as you wiggle your cursor around trying to decide what to click on first. They all sound so inviting! Let’s see.

Too many people in the UK… Too many people in Europe… Too many people ON EARTH…  The caps are mine. I quiver with terror as I click in. Is this in fact a direct policy tool? Will the over-curious be digitally exterminated for the good of the Race?

No, don’t be silly, Mortimer. It’s a perfectly legitimate organisation supported and led by many eminent people of all political stripes, making a good and terrifying point about the effect of a rising population on a planet whose natural resources are dwindling.

A shame therefore that it lays itself open to the charge of playing to extremist views, quoting the following as though it supported the core argument:

Those who already inhabit the UK recognise the dangers: in an Ipsos-Mori poll carried out in August 2006, 33% of respondents identified population growth as the most serious threat to the future wellbeing of Britain, second only to terrorism and ahead of climate change. Yet no political party has a policy aimed at stabilising and reducing today’s environmentally unsustainable population.

Firstly, the poll was incorrect to separate out population growth and climate change, but the results of its having done so are revealing. If all those respondents had really been as selflessly concerned with environmental impacts as the OPT chooses to believe, surely they would all have put climate change first. Moreover, many of those who inhabit the UK also “recognise” that those filthy Eastern Europeans have our benefits system in their sights, that gay people aren’t fit to adopt, and that they should be allowed to use their car as much as they want, and that includes driving their perfect children the thirty yards to school. That doesn’t mean that even a Tory government would be stupid enough to formulate policy to support them. If the Optimum Population Trust isn’t being disingenuous in this po-faced little paragraph, it is at the very least guilty of total cretinism.

However, it will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that my biggest problem with the OPT statement is that  no-one has bothered to seek out Lib Dem policy on the issue (yawn). Paras 7.4.3 to 7.3.5, birth-control fans. I mean, no doubt we could make more of this than we do, but we have enough trouble getting people to take on board our tax policy…

Hm, I see that one of my very scarce fellow female bloggers, Jo Anglezarke, is using her blog to tout for Lib Dem dates.

Am I concerned that this will tend to undermine our future as serious, think-piece-oriented contenders in both the blogosphere and the party? Am I worried for Jo that she is letting too much personal information slip too quickly in the essentially public world of blogging?

Or am I just cross that I didn’t think of it first?

The Duncan Borrowman forecast: Clegg – visibility poor with patches of fog, 6, rising slowly. Huhne – visibility good but high pressure band on the way, 8, falling slowly.

An unforgivingly heavy piece for Saturday morning while all sensible people are still in bed trying to summon the will to live. Jock Coats has recently been floating the idea of de-nationalising education. This is all the fault of Herbert Spencer (of course!). Spencer attacked the Liberal Daddy Mill for conceding that education should ever be a matter of state intervention. Spencer’s argument is that a true liberal would never concede, of all things, state control over the formation of one’s world view and economic skills. I think this is an interesting notion and intend to do some Clegg-style thinking out loud, with the caveat that I am hunched in front of a computer in the semi-darkness clutching a cup of tea and wrapped in a blanket rather than facing the nation in a suit, and so the fall-out is less likely to be problematic.

First, taken in context it is a far less extreme position than it might appear. Spencer was writing in the 1880s at the dawn of compulsory universal education, when it was by no means a given that it would be a success. The fact that it has been a way of life in this country for five or six generations should not preclude our considering the possibility that it is no longer as useful as it once was. This is where being by training a medievalist provides valuable perspective (in fact, good gracious, I don’t know how you all cope). When most politicised people say “historically”, what they mean is “back to 1850″, which can lead to a certain proscription of outlook, and is the fundamental reason why we’re finding the whole left-right meme so hard to escape.

The liberal argument in favour of state education is that it provides the essential tools for people to function economically and culturally in wider society; thus by constraining the freedom of children, in the form of a joint trusteeship between parents and the states, you open the way to true liberty in adult life. Jettisoning this argument is nigh-on unthinkable (try it, your mind skitters away from it). It has gained an awful lot of weight in the century and a quarter since Spencer was writing, for the simple reason that there are now few wellsprings for said common economic and cultural background in this country apart from education.

Spencer wrote at a time when British society was coherently samey – pretty much white and English-speaking, heavily jingoistic, monarchical and religious, with a relatively controlled media and still basically locked into a set of master-servant relationships that only war would destroy. This coherence provided a basis for a single working society. All that now is gone; education (and popular culture) is what is left. Education supposedly provides the same skillset to all and the same cultural backdrop to all (if nothing else because you need a communal bike shed to discuss popular culture behind). In the context of British society as it exists today, it is an indispensible tool in the fight for genuine equality of opportunity.

The operative words are “as it exists today”. The more I extrapolate results of this denationalising idea, the more interesting I find it. If I were to appoint Jock the Minister for Education in the People’s Republic of Mortimer, he would instantly give away all his powers, like any good liberal. Local groups would then organise themselves to provide time-efficient education for their children. At first, this would probably create a swing to faith schooling simply because those groups have the historical organising capacity, but it wouldn’t take long for the new “market” to adjust itself.

In the longer term, the lack of pre-existing societal coherence, combined with the fact that education groups would generally coalesce around a shared set of ideals, religious or otherwise, would mean increased specialisation. This specialisation would be guided by demographic make-up of an area, the type of economic prospect available in the area and so forth. Specialisation would result in increasing entrenchment of regional differences, with individuals being ever less able to operate economically and culturally in regions other than their home region, because they had not had the right mix of education. In time, this would lead to less movement of people, more restricted intermarriage and perhaps even things like the re-emergence of regional dialect.

This is probably freaking you out a bit so here is a fluffy bunny picture:

fluffy-bunny.jpg

Don’t worry, it almost certainly won’t happen in your lifetime

The great advantage of medieval history is that studying it leaves you with absolutely no pre-conceived notions about the way society should work, and even modern historians know that the nation state is a meme like any other. What once was will be again, and all things pass. Regional states were the norm for the fourteen-hundred odd years between the arrival of the Celts and the unification of England under Alfred. The twelve-hundred odd years that have passed since are currently still in the minority, and it’s only in the last quarter or so of that time that the barriers to economic and cultural cohesion have properly come down. The fact that these early medieval regional states were more frequently at war is indicative of scarce resources and prestige-based warrior-kingship. There is nothing innately unstable or unworkable about the break-up of Great Britain into regions.

And as liberals, democrats and localists, really it is the logical culmination of what we want, isn’t it? It certainly seems to be the logical outcome of Spencer’s extremis liberal position on education.

Having read all this again, I realise that I have invented something like anarcho-syndicalism with a cultural rather than economic focus. Well done, Mortimer, an hour and a half well spent there. Up the Judaean People’s Front!

Once upon a moon I wrote scathingly of the twat-in-blue-shirt voter we have lost to flimsy Tory tax “policy”, and was quite rightly corrected by Rob Knight to the tune that it might actually be (whisper it) not entirely twat-in-blue-shirt’s fault that he doesn’t know what our tax policy is. It’s the old story: we’ve got the policy, we just don’t got da message.

I recall blogging sunnily on the subject of message back in the primaeval early history of the People’s Republic, and then I stuck the whole subject of communications in the huge box room in my head with the sign on the door saying “More reading required”. More reading is generally the answer to everything in the People’s Republic (except the easy, obvious, boring stuff like earning a living, forming functional relationships with other human beings and all that other window-dressing jazz). Well, I haven’t done any more reading, but I have done some more talking. Specifically, on the comments thread following Nick Clegg’s Guardian piece yesterday. The exchange, shorn of interspersing madness, was as follows. I appear in the guise of a blue porcupine:

blueporcupine November 22, 2007 8:36 PM

Ryan – that tax outline is party policy, as approved by the membership at conference in September. The policy documents (if you’ve got the stomach for it!) are on the party website. It’s moved as far forward as it’s ever going to move without y’all vote for us

;-)

I don’t know of any Liberal Democrat not implacably and vocally opposed to ID cards. Nick Clegg has said that if it comes to it he’ll personally refuse to register and go to court if necessary.

I didn’t get the final ringing endorsement I was after. I’d like to think that RyanBerks has withdrawn to some mountain retreat with a year’s supply of rice and a copy of Fairer, Simpler, Greener to reflect on his political allegiance, but actually I’m sure he has just been distracted by a thing. Howsobeit, a tiny, shuffling millimetre of progress was clearly made. Winning hearts and minds, one blood vessel and nerve cell at a time, style of thing (hey, it’s as good as any other slogan). 

And all this gives me pause for thought, because there are always a goodly proportion of comments attached to these broad spectrum appeal pieces that make a similar plea to RyanBerks’ “stop being so bland”. Rather than trying to evolve one single, simple message for allcomers (which a prospective party leader writing on Comment is Free must perforce do), we should be true to our localist nature and evolve different versions of the same message to answer the questions posed by difference audiences. My uber-rational, dry exposition clearly had some impact in this case, but wouldn’t in all.

Of course, you can’t manufacture a range of these messages easily without an agreed central repository of message-fodder, and therefore I commend you with renewed enthusiasm to the Lib Dem Voice Wiki project, and shall even be commending myself to it just as soon as I understand what it is.

Okay, so it’s Anne McElvoy, hardly a trenchant critic of the party at the worst of times, and you do have to look for the reference pretty carefully.

But I have been doing a certain amount of blubbery crying over some of the responses to Chris Huhne’s appearance in the Telegraph and Nick Clegg’s Guardian column, so I clutch gratefully onto her Evening Standard piece as one would a soggy tissue.

I did try, incidentally, to offer a perfectly calm and reasoned answer to the very sensible “why should I vote for you?” question that at the time of writing is uppermost on the Telegraph responses, but twenty-four hours later my party piece remains mysteriously lost in the Telegraph spam system…

This post has been hypoallergenically tested for leadership contest irritants and approved by the Soiling Association.  

The pre-spat blurb from Mark Littlewood on Sunday’s Politics Show has understandably faded from view somewhat. Among its several exasperating features (Vox pop: “Have you heard of Nick Clegg? Have you? Go on, have you? No? Not at all? Not even if I prod you with this big stick?”) was a brief interview with a youngish twat-in-a-blue-shirt-in-the-street type who has voted Lib Dem at the last two elections and plans to vote Tory next time.

Why this defection by twat-in-blue-shirt? Well, apparently the Lib Dems need to really Sort Out Their Tax Policy. They need to realise that higher taxes isn’t going to appeal to young people on lower salaries who are finding it hard to make ends meet, even though it might mean more funding for public services. That’s why Cameron has won over so many younger people, says twat-in-blue-shirt portentously as he caresses his latte, with his stamp duty threshold raise and his inheritance tax policy.

I had to stop the Politics Show for a minute at this point and weep gently for a bit. All of what follows has been said before (and way better, like with figures and everything), but it’s always worth saying again, if only so that I can post it to my Facebook page in the hope that it knocks some sense into my idiotic Tory friends (love y’all).

I mean, maybe there really is no hope, if the electorate is this stupid (I said this post had been tested for leadership contest irritants – I never said I wouldn’t abuse the general public, especially when they wear shirts like that). It’s not the fact that twat-in-blue-shirt doesn’t know that the current Liberal Democrat tax policy would exceed his wildest dreams - it’s recently off the production line after all, and it’s the party’s job to bring it to the public’s attention, not the other way round. It’s that his reasons for favouring Tory tax policy are so tragically empty, senseless and overspun that it breaks my heart.

IHT is of course a tax specifically invented to annoy the People’s Republic of Mortimer, whether the Head of State is being forced hatefully to draw up calculations for people to avoid it or voluntarily reading  silly articles about what an unearthly evil it is. It’s a tax on accumulated wealth which affects anything up to forty-eight people, of whom forty live inside the M25 and one is the Duke of Westminster*, so for twat-in-a-blue-shirt to be allowed to perpetuate the myth that it’s some sort of lodestone for the economic liberty of The People is risibly London-focused, and such an unselfconsciously Thatcherite piece of upper-middle-class bleating as to be little short of sick. (Incidentally, why would you give a toss about IHT as a supposedly selfish apolitical young person unless you are actually planning to murder your parents? Damned suspicious, in my opinion.)

But it’s not altogether twat-in-a-blue-shirt’s fault. The two main parties have successfully made IHT into a buzz issue, the kind of thing the editors of the Money section have on four-weekly turnover. This works marvellously if you’re in government or fancy your chances because the tax is dead easy to tinker with – there’s only one Act (IHTA 1984) and you can sign off regulations changing the thresholds around until the printer cartridge runs out if you like. Mark Littlewood, I assume, knows all this perfectly well as the party ex-Head of Press, but as liberals we have a certain moral and political obligation to nod and say “Hm, well it’s interesting to know that this is what you think, clearly we need to work on our message” rather than just beating people over the head for talking utter horse piss. No, criminally insane it may be, but we are stuck with IHT as a dealbreaker because it suits the media-stroke-major-party agenda. Fortunately, our policy on IHT is - lamentably, in my opinion – similar to Tory policy, so we still lose, but at least it’s only because no-one listens to us, rather than because no-one agrees (imagine my surprise).

Stamp duty is an altogether more interesting case. We don’t have an answer to the Tories here. A thorough read (okay, a CTRL+F) of the party housing policy will reveal absolutely no mention of stamp duty. Not one.

There’s a really, really good reason for this.

It doesn’t matter.

In a market where the average house costs ten times the average salary, it really doesn’t matter a flying bat’s fart** whether the 0% stamp duty threshold is set at £120K, £250K or £793,162 and fifty seven pence. It doesn’t matter whether it’s payable in pounds, yen, rupees, pomegranates or bits of fluff. It doesn’t make even the inciest, tiniest, weeniest scrap of a hairsbreadth of a difference to someone earning about £25k in London, or £17k in Devon (let’s say) who is trying to buy a rathole for respectively £140,000 or £90,000, whether they have to stump up a few extra grand for a bit of paper or not. Really. Truly. It doesn’t. Anyone putting themselves through the insanity of property purchase (I would like to know the thoughts of the Posh-Sounding Northumbrian on this, by-the-by) is officially the Person Most Likely to utter a manic giggle and slap it on the credit card along with the removal costs, half the deposit and the therapy fees.

Of course it makes it a fraction easier if you can already afford to buy. So would carrying all your furniture yourself. Or getting your dad to do it. But the main parties tout the precise whereabouts of the stamp duty threshold vis-a-vis their own arse as a property panacea on an equal level with home ownership schemes (which are problematic enough in themselves because at the time of writing they are only available to public sector workers called Colin who have lived and worked in the London Borough of Haringey for twenty-five years and have to travel more than fifty-nine football pitches’ lengths on public transport to get to work and always been very good and never taken a library book back late. That’s me out. I can change my sex and my name, but there’s chuff-all I can do about my library record).

To pretend that stamp duty, as IHT, is some sort of major personal freedom issue of our times and that tinkering with it will somehow promote a brighter future is a cynical, ghastly trick to pull on a taxpayer, an indicator of shockingly unimaginative policy-making and a sign that any prospect of our having “rights” on things that actually matter is in the toilet and we all ought to be constantly outraged. Oh, we are.

Howsobeit, it is by just these means that we have lost twat-in-a-blue-shirt. The second half of this post was going to be about how to win him back, but actually I’m now so depressed I don’t really care.

* It is just possible that I exaggerate somewhat. 

** Hat tip the Cleggster via Paul Walter

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