February 2008


Well, there’s got to be some explanation for her shocking blitheness on the subject of seizing the property of innocent people on the Today programme this morning.

The context is a “crack-down” on drug dealers (no pun intended, presumably) but it goes beyond Jacqui’s other recent “crack-downs”, which normally just give the authorities responsible for cracking down the power to mutter “That’s disgusting” as they do so. No, this time, she wants the property of people being arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs to be seized at the point of arrest, before they’ve even been charged, much less tried. Here is the moment at which Thickie Smith reveals her mastery of the primacy of law and exposes the whole Labour agenda (once again) as the dangerous mumsy juggernaut it is.

Edward Stourton: You mention assets. Is it really true that you’re going to sieze the assets of people before they’ve been charged of any crime? Isn’t that contrary to a basic principle of British law?

Jacqui Smith: Well yes, so we’d get the law changed so that it’s possible.

And, er, if they’re innocent after all?

Oh, well, then they get them back of course! But people must see that drug crime doesn’t pay!

Hm, no, I see. Obviously doesn’t pay to be an innocent civilian either.

Can she be for real? Some day soon will we turn on C4 on a Monday night and encounter the following portentous voiceover:

Despite the new system of checks on cabinet members, our reporter was able to pose as a front bench minister for months on end and implement a series of attacks on the most basic liberties of the British public. As the bank accounts of the entire population of the UK are frozen by the government on pain of proof that no-one has been naughty in the last ninety days, we’re waiting, we can wait all decade if necessaryit’s so sad when one child spoils it for all the rest, Dispatches asks – how was this allowed to happen?

Or maybe I’m dignifying this woman too much. Perhaps instead at some point when she’s making a speech in what is apparently the House of Commons the camera will pull back to reveal a glitzy studio, screaming audience and various key figures from the light-entertainment industry.

“Tonight, Cat, I will be . . . the Home Secretary!”

Gosh, and to think tonight I was planning to favour you all with a fascinating post on recycling.

On topic of the moment, Ed Davey’s ejection from the Commons and the ensuing Lib Dem walk-out, I find I am a cross between Linda Jack and Stephen Tall (now there’s a thought): part of me whoops for joy in a totally unrestrained fashion, part of me clear-headedly approves both tactics and principle. It gives me hope, because if we in the People’s Republic can whoop for joy, other people - neutral people - can have their interest piqued as a result of this afternoon’s events. It also gives me hope to see Tories spitting out accusations of childishness, first retort of the terminally out-manoeuvred, as fast as their little keyboards can carry them.

I would just like to echo Stephen on one particular point though – of course it was bloody planned! It would have been the height of irresponsibility to take a decision like that on the floor of the House on the spur of the moment.

_44452993_daveyprotest203_bbc.jpg

Man with a plan

 And what on earth is the problem with planning a protest, in effect boycotting a political process because you don’t believe it is being effective and allowing you to answer to your constituency – both your actual electors and the wider electorate ?

There was nothing procedurally wrong with the amendment being turned down, but it was a slap in the face to the parliamentary party’s core view, as expressed through the tabling of the amendment. And sorry, but it just isn’t enough to mumble about splits in the party as Michael White does in the Guardian. That was the amendment that was. It was obviously important, obviously an issue of national interest, obviously of more significance than the procedural sum of its parts. It was not put on the agenda. This is a matter for concern. The parliamentary party’s response could have ranged all the way from acceptance that getting it on the agenda was always a long shot anyway and issuing a disgruntled press release afterwards up to what actually happened – and they went with the latter. O shock and-as-it-were-to-say horror.

It’s not just the publicity value either, nice though that is. This incident has the potential to be a watershed. It draws a line, blows away of some the madness the Cleggster wrote about yesterday. It may now be a matter of backing the Tory amendment en masse after all, but my feeling is it won’t quite amount to that, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a disaster. The online party presence has been all over this question with fine-toothed combs, secateurs and feather dusters (or at least other folk have and I’ve been reading and going, “Yeh….”) and briefly a second-best referendum on the treaty alone is not without serious objections. A Yes vote, which the party could not, in all conscience, campaign against, is interpretable by the government as a blank cheque in Europe, and the whole notion of voting on a treaty which does not by itself amount to a constitution as if it is one is intellectually bankrupt.

There are two other alternatives to hand. One is to unashamedly go for exasperated free-for-all voting now that the party’s first preference has been so publicly pushed off the table, and continue campaigning for a full referendum in other ways – hell, we’ve got the anecdote to kick off with, should the Cleggster feel like doing any more writing for the Yorkshire Evening Post. The other is to use the threat of mass backing for the Tory amendment to get that first preference back on the table.

Either way, there is an unfamiliar sensation of having shots to call, and how it pans out remains to be seen, but tonight in the People’s Republic we concur with a significant section of the liberal nerdorati that today is a good day to be a Liberal Democrat.

No, really. Look at what Rowan has written in the Grauniad this morning:

One of the recurring challenges is to find a way of safeguarding young people’s space without policing it in an intrusive or humiliating way. Adults must think twice before assuming that every group of under-20s in a street or mall is likely to be a threat.

The infamous Mosquito is described as an “indiscriminate and knee-jerk response to a perceived problem”. So far, so liberal.

But His Grace also burbles slightly less convincingly about how we’re less good at public space than the Victorians were. To be fair I do live in an area which has regeneration coming out of its ears, and undoubtedly there are unloved town centres throughout the country, but on the whole I’d say the public and government concern with public space, somewhere for “the community to come together”, whatever that may mean, is deafening, if not always coherent. I was recently in Liverpool for the first time, and upon seeing the mighty fine St George’s Hall as I emerged from Lime Street, built in the Grecian style in an era when raving capitalists liked to pretend they were Pericles, I asked my companion what it was now used for. Hm. He wasn’t sure. There’s an art gallery. Maybe an exhibition space? Had he ever been there? Not for years. The best use he really had for St George’s Hall was as a nice building to look at. When “community space” fails to serve an above-averagely cultured Scouser (no tittering at the back there) in his home town, it’s hard to see how it can be said to be a worthwhile community space at all.

The problem is not, on the whole, with a lack of public space. It is that, as the Primate (one of my two favourite ecclesiastical words*) correctly identifies in the quote above, adults simply don’t like the idea of how children and young people might choose to use it. So they push them out of it. A poster on the “Disorderly towns” thread I blogged about the other day related the sad case of Winchester, where the authorities have banned people from lounging on the grass by the river, thus disrupting a proud and centuries-old public binge drinking tradition, dammit.

A further example, I recently had cause in the line of work to read some very thoughtful comments by a Haringey police officer on the lives and activities of young people in Haringey. The officer remembered when s/he first joined the force in Haringey, kids used to play football on the estates a lot of the time and it was a constructive way of occupying themselves. Nowadays, estates in the borough are plastered with “No ball games” signs because the residents automatically assume they will become a nuisance. So they go and hang around on the streets instead, then someone calls the police who have to come and speak to them, and the kids unsurprisingly get a bit narked by the whole thing. Even the terribly harmless middle-class little teenage People’s Republic used to get moved on from the shopping centre by the tinpot Napoleon security guards therein and made to conduct her social life outside on a narrow stretch of kerb next to a busy three-lane road (by god, we knew how to have a good time in Epsom in the mid-nineties).

In fact I reckon we’re exactly like the Victorians, building public and communal spaces into residential developments, office blocks and public buildings because we can, with no real idea of what they are for or whether people’s utilisation of them will fit with some orderly and (sorry, chaps) distinctively middle-aged ideal. This ideal is essentially informed, it seems to me, by those wonderful little architectural stick-men drawings from the 1950s in which one figure sits on a bench while another pushes a stick-pram past and a third stands thoughtfully under a stick-tree. This was what the planners of Milton Keynes et al thought the future was going to look like, and their cultural children have taken up the fight to restrict town centre behaviour to a narrow range parodied in The Truman Show. This is not liberal, and I was really pleased to see that awareness in the responses to the Disorderly Towns piece, and I am doubly pleased that a senior politician (let us call him) from outside the party has written something saying so.

Pity said senior politician has recently made such an ass of himself, really.

* The other one is archbishopric.

Jacqui “Wimp-ass” Smith recently revealed a further segment of her not-so-secret agenda to turn the entire nation into wet-eyed clones of herself by clamping down on underage drinkers in the streets. Presumably her ultimate aim is to secure a society where she feels safe to go out at night because there are no other people in the world anywhere doing anything she doesn’t much like the look of.

As ever, with NuLabour, this is about aesthetics and prejudice, not about an assessment of the actual harm being done, and as ever, clamping down means giving the police extra powers to, er, do pretty much what they’re already empowered to do, that is arrest people engaging in anti-social behaviour and trace shops selling alcohol to underage drinkers but with more moral disapproval than before. They also get the power to take underage drinkers’ alcohol away from them. I’m sure they’ll just love that. Nothing the police like better than being asked to take on the role of parent-stroke-social worker.

This tendency to see public youth drunkenness as a problem in and of itself is dangerous. It has even hooked in the chair of London LDYS. It causes us to lose sight of the most basic liberal principle of all – who is harmed? I have nothing but scorn for the idea that young people drinking in public is innately any more dangerous, repellant or worthy of punishment than old people drinking in private – and that goes for underage drinkers as well (does anyone want to put their hand up to not having been an underage drinker?) If you stop underage drinkers from drinking, it has to be because you are convinced they are harming themselves and do not believe they are competent to decide to do so. I don’t care if you don’t like the appearance of it. I don’t care if you feel slightly threatened by it. Sorry, but I really don’t give a toss. Have the grace to admit that you’re afraid of Young People, Jacqui, Young People probably from the lower end of the social scale, and that’s all there is to it.

I have a jolly good mind to go and hang around outside the library swigging from a bottle of Merlot and shouting environmentally-aware abuse at 4×4 drivers (hell, it wouldn’t be the first time) and see what NuLabour does about it. For a start, do I still count as a young person? This will be the acid test.

It had to happen sooner or later. I have, I think, managed to write an avowedly Liberal Democrat blog for some six months now without once mentioning Land Value Tax, but the day has finally dawned. 

Naturally, I don’t intend to discuss LVT in any detail. I certainly approve the principle of taxing wealth rather than income, plus lots of awfully jolly clever people I know are in favour of LVT, so we in the People’s Republic of Mortimer are content to give holding support to LVT until such time as we understand what it is. No, my interest today lies in the psychology surrounding it.

It’s a running joke in the Lib Dem blogosphere (O! how we laughed!), that race to be the first one to say “Of course, if we had LVT it wouldn’t be a problem…” in response to any sort of tax-based discussion or comment whatsoever. Only the other day Our Vince guested on Lib Dem Voice for a well-deserved blast at Darling, darling!, who has belatedly been informed by his gap year intern that the Labour policy of slapping a flat levy of thirty grand on non-domiciles for keeping their privileged tax status is in fact a “bloody stupid idea”, as the People’s Republic amongst many, many others could have told him at the time.

The first – and for some time, only – response to Vince’s piece was from the LVT eggs, and was in much the usual vein. It’s like watching someone trying to smell through their ears when LVT eggs get onto tax threads. The mismatch between subject matter and chosen instrument of perception is so total that the discussion is over before it has begun. Essentially, if you believe as passionately as some do that LVT is the only viable liberal tax system and refuse to discuss all lesser proposals on their own terms, what you have is a non-debate. I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand if you are one of the passionate LVT eggs, nursing continual frustration in your hopelessly well-read bosom that the party doesn’t wuv it just as much as you do, I can see how you want to take any opportunity to hammer home your point. You may end up coming on like Cato the Elder on the subject of Carthage* but hey, you’re a political activist, you bought into being boring a loooong time ago - at least an idealist’s issue is kept alive, and the blogs are one of the few places in the party where that is continuously true. Top banana to you.

On the other hand, this is tax policy. Tax policy tends, by its nature, to be highly practical and potent stuff. Elections are won and lost on the fine detail of it in a way that isn’t true for other areas of policy. So when a particular aspect of the government and opposition’s tax policy is so obviously flawed, and ours so obviously superior, don’t the actual circumstances of the case merit a mention? Doesn’t Our Vince merit a(nother) pat on the back for keeping it real? Doesn’t Martin Land on the LDV thread have a point, albeit an unwelcome one, when he says, “If only we could find a way of combining LVT, PR and opposition to Trident into one single policy we could truly bore the electorate to death”?

I’m not convinced that non-domiciles are a particularly good advert for LVT anyway.

“What about non-doms who don’t own property in the UK?” says I, “LVT will only trouble non-doms who have decided to settle and live in the UK to the exclusion of everywhere else. This by definition is likely to be non-doms of modest means. Rich non-doms will simply redistribute their landed assets in the most tax-efficient way. Anecdotally, plenty of internationalist non-dom bankers live in luxury rentals in Kensington and Chelsea and earn vast tax-free salaries in the city.” Yes, I said all that.

“Pah!” says they, “LVT will be passed on to the tenant in the form of higher rents.”

This is true as far as it goes, but it passes over my central point (which wasn’t that well expressed): LVT is based on ownership and stakeholding in the UK. Non-doms occupy a very peculiar position – they come here to make money from employment, not investment. They choose London (generally) as their place of employment for a reason – it is the financial capital of Europe, it is the commercial setting their career cannot thrive without. The UK’s financial industry is a resource used by many wealthy non-doms to make money - a resource that essentially belongs to the host country and its taxpayers. It is impossible, under LVT, to tax wealthy non-doms specifically on the use of that resource. Looked at that way, non-doms are possibly one of the few groups for which it is possible to make an argument for taxing income and not wealth.

After the LVT eggs and I had partied on for a bit, Diversity made a far more effective comment which I shall, if I may (ha, like you have a choice) quote in full:

In practice no tax is perfect; not even green taxes and LVT. Vince Cable’s point is that the Government’s and the Tories proposals for taxing nondoms are downright bad. Seven years and then normal tax is, as always, not perfect. However it is far less damaging than the other parties’ proposals. Once again, Vince is the competent economic manager in the House. 

* Oh, look it up. The world needs more classics nerds.

I am working from home today and thus am Queen of All the Jam. Particularly because said work consists of tinkering with a pleasantly mindless spreadsheet which is occupying me without in the least troubling my higher faculties. These, I have been using to listen to Darling, darling!‘s statement to the House about the temporary nationalisation of Northern Rock this afternoon. This morning, Mr Macaroon predictably came out with the demand that the chancellor should resign - the Tory strategy is obviously to get into government by means of a lengthy game of parliamentary wink murder.

Predictably, there was much heckling, and Darling, darling! was wearing such a sitting duck expression by the time he sat down that I cringed in anticipation of the opposition’s retort. Fortunately for my nerves, watching Gorgeous Georgina take Darling, darling! to task was like watching a sheep being worried by another slightly shriller and more aggressive sheep. Do bear in mind while reading the following reportage that I am an amateur alongside the worthy scribes of Hansard and so my version may require correction when the official report is published.

“This is the first time in the history of blah that a bank has blah and a chancellor has blah froth froth, oops one of my eyeball has popped out!” shrieked Gorgeous Georgina, “Nationalisation is a policy that was farted out by the devil at the beginning of all things! Down with this Trotskyite conspiracy! I call for the resignation of the froth froth Chancellor, and shall be opposing the government’s policy strenuously as soon as someone with A-level Economics has explained it to me.”

Darling, darling! looked a little seasick, but rallied to accuse the Tories of opportunism and catalogue their lengthy inventory of positions on Northern Rock since last autumn. Gorgeous Georgina didn’t have an answer to that, nor indeed another contribution of any sort for the whole of the fifteen minutes more that I watched. Naturally, it was left to Our Vince to show everyone how it should be done.

“I am tempted to say I told you so,” he began to universal laughter, before going on to broadly support the government’s statement and point out that the last time a bank was nationalised was in 1994 by the Tories. Darling, darling! looked as if he wanted to kiss Our Vince fully on his bald pate, and re-used that snippet in his answer. It was also left to our Shadow Chancellor – because their shadow chancellor is such a pointless spoon - to ask when the Bank of England would be carrying out a full public audit of the bank’s position. Finally, with a kindly pat on the shoulder and profferment of a clean handkerchief to Darling, darling!, Our Vince recommend a strategy for wriggling out of Goldman Sachs’ gargantuan consultancy bill: point out that the Liberal Democrats provided the same advice free of charge.

This is simply staggering. Apparently Caroline “veins of” Flint is due to make an announcement which was probably intended, among other aims, to ratchet her Overall Fluffiness Rating back up to “barbed-wire spitting psychopathic ice witch”.

She will soon be announcing a shortlist of UK locations, some of which will be newly developed as “eco-towns”. The idea of these developments – involving the building of tens of thousands of carbon-neutral homes and the creation from scratch of whole new communities and infrastructures – apparently wasn’t news (it was news to the People’s Republic of Mortimer, but that’s because we have never bothered ourselves much about planning laws; everything is perfect here already, you see.) The “news” bit is the publication of (a) the full shortlist, including greenfield and protected sites and (b) if the Observer’s coverage is to be believed, some of the actual developers’ plans which have already been submitted to the government without local consultation.

Assuming, as I must, that this is actually legal, I really do find it hard to credit how anyone could have been so stupid as to believe this approach would work. The country’s first nationwide urban greening scheme - which is to include 40% social housing among its projected build - is now in the absurd position of facing down protest and petition from the likes of local retired headteachers, wildlife funds and other touchy-feely worthies from environmentally-concerned demographics (all right, and the inevitable CPRE) – exactly the sort of people who are supposed to be in favour of This Sort of Thing. The idea of an eco-town is visionary, exciting, a glimpse of a hoped-for future. Who in the name of arse was responsible for steering a course which would render it a looming statist monster-truck crushing local circumstances and opinion in its path?

This breaks my heart. It really does. It could have been a contender. Individual communities are capable of putting themselves to enormous trouble to pursue environmental goals with no state assistance. Yes, nimbyism is always a factor to contend with, but entrusting the grand aims of the project to public care would have worked to disable the kind of sulky powerlessness that is so often the hallmark of the obstreperous nimby. We might even have seen, eventually, the development of regional variation in eco-town planning that would have laid the foundations of healthy experimentation and competition in the future. As it stands, one of the excitement high spots of the story is a nasty whiff of conflict of interest involving a developer and the ubiquitous Blair (is he being cloned somewhere? because he is now associated with many more pies than a normal man has fingers). When statism fails even to promote a cause like this effectively, you wonder how anyone can be so purblind as to not see that it fails altogether.

The answer, from the Grauniad to the Daily Mail, is no. Peter Welch has been nobly reading the Mail so that we don’t have to, and reports on the spat currently taking place between Our Vince and Sir Richard Branson. To have a Liberal Democrat present the case for the opposition here is, as Peter says, something of a coup, but after all if there’s one thing Daily Mail readers hate more than benefit scroungers, it’s fat cats and tax havens.

It’s been clear for some time that what started out as a lone call for nationalisation from Vince Cable has increased steadily in tempo and volume to the point where it’s an acceptable mainstream position (imagine!) What is interesting to me is the range of people now asking the questions about Branson’s personal and corporate probity. The Mail, in common with many other major papers, has been doing some fairly sustained campaigning against the Virgin bid from the beginning, as a search on “Richard Branson” on the site reveals. But it’s the specialists too - Prem Sikka had this piece in CiF back in early December that totally passed me by, and more recently Richard Murphy, the tax research guru I read when I am feeling big and clever, echoes the concerns.

What exactly constitutes tax abuse is a question that exercises some of financial services’ most agile and morally adaptive minds. Eighteen months in that dark industry has left me with a distrust of complaints about “loopholes”, and the supposed moral degeneracy of those “exploiting” them. It is inappropriately emotive language, and I say this as one who regularly rants about people who have wot I reckon to be too much money for social comfort. Either a particular practice or treatment is against the law or it isn’t, and if the latter then we must agree to it, even if we mightn’t like the results (if we really don’t like the results, then the law itself is defective).

Balance is maintained by a communal understanding that there is a point at which avoidance (legal) becomes evasion (illegal), and that it’s in everyone’s interests not to push it by contravening too many of those unwritten tax laws which collectively say, in effect, “It shall be illegal for persons to be greedy bastards and wilfully twist the wording of inoffensive provisions for their own nefarious purposes”.

So when the condemnation of an individual’s tax arrangements are as universal as this, it’s time to be very afraid – because the law which says a tax haven abuser should not be allowed to own a bank is just such a one of those unwritten laws.

Oh, all right. Yes, there was a context:

Many in Upper Beeding agree that being a member of the BNP is like being a member of the Liberal Democrats, a choice that has no effect on personal standing or moral worth.

The case is of a BNP activist in Sussex who was trying to be co-opted onto the parish council. Not as a card-carrying BNP member, of course. Just as someone who helps out at the local school, and wants to help out on the parish council, a body which generally, though not invariably, doesn’t make political decisions. The consensus of some of her neighbours was apparently that her political allegiance carries the same weight as any other and shouldn’t therefore interfere with her capacity to contribute to her community. Others were aghast at the very idea.

To separate out the two strands, this is about (1) the moral and personal implications of an extremist political position, and (2) the capacity of an individual holding such a position to do harm via whatever political channel is under discussion. On point (1) I don’t believe the distressed gentlefolk of Upper Beeding have a leg to stand on, from a liberal point of view. They and I, much as we might wish to, can’t systematically prove that every BNP member is fundamentally evil and amoral, even if we could agree on a definition of what that is, and by the law of averages not all of them can be.

One would be on far safer ground ditching the facile argument that an elected position is “not political” just because it doesn’t actually involve setting immigration policy. Taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that someone whose political beliefs included a fervent commitment to killing all ducks could also be elected to a parish council – where they would doubtless use their powers to unleash a Hideous Reign of Duck Terror. As ever, liberalism is the clarifier – is there a scenario, however unlikely, in which enough harm could potentially come to enough people (or ducks) to make this what is technically known as a “bloody stupid idea”?

Unfortunately the spirit of liberalism does not inform every choice made in every village hall, and without some central guiding tenet like this what you get instead are an awful lot of people who happen to enjoy holding an awkward cuss position because they believe it makes them look objective and intellectual. The motion to co-opt the BNP member, Donna Bailey, was defeated, but only just. She then forced a by-election which took place last Thursday with the following result:

BAILEY, Donna Rita – 277 votes
DAVOUDI, Becki – 196 votes
SHAW, Joyce Florence – 297 ELECTED

773 votes were cast with 3 ballot papers rejected.
 
Turnout was 32%

About this time last year it was SNOW DAY! in London. This will cause scoffing amongst those of you currently wrapped in a yakskin sitting on a crate of tinned food and reading your monitor by the light of a burning heap of cattle. Or whatever it is people do Outside London. But for us SNOW DAY! was pretty special.

For a start, common unspoken consent dictated that tax advisers could wear wellie boots, their oldest, warmest jeans and a very fluffy cardigan with egg on it to work because, well, it’s SNOWING! After a fruitless hour on the bus creeping a total distance of five hundred yards, I got out and walked, like, TWO MILES! in, like, SIX INCHES OF SNOW! to work. It took about an hour and a half. I walked on grass verges suddenly strange and invisible, along deserted white roads that might have morphed back into the original cattle-drover’s dirt tracks and village lanes connecting Muswell Hill to Friern Barnet and Friern Barnet to Whetstone. I walked past sparkling, crispy, coated parks that had taken on the silent endless quality of a sweep of heath. It was wonderful. And once I had got to work, a few desultory hours of sharing snow-stories later, there was early release in case of another late afternoon fall, upon which SNOW DAY! became PUB DAY! and was even better for it.

Part of the reason all this was tremendous fun as opposed to a gigantic arse-pain was that the tax return deadline had just passed, and aside from chasing up the laggards (“Oh, yes, and I sold my rental property in August - should I have told you that before the afternoon of the 30th January?”) working in tax for the first week of February mostly involves lying weakly across one’s chair seeing how many Mini Eggs one can fit into one’s mouth – and it’s an earned rest, believe me. All this comes to mind again now because the next big oncoming date in the tax year is 5th April – New Year’s Eve in tax land, and generally an excuse for a departmental dinner.

I will not be celebrating. In last year’s budget, Labour pulled off, baldly and blandly, a trick only equalled in balls-out illiberal people-bashing by Caroline “veins of” Flint’s announcement that she’ll put council tenants out on the streets if they aren’t seeking work. They have, of course, reduced the 22% band to 20% and, critically, scrapped the 10% band, as any fule kno. For anyone who has inexplicably neglected their personal tax studies of late , here is the computation for someone earning £15,000 Before and After the changes. Pay attention, class.

2007-08

Salary:                                                    15,000

Less personal tax free allowance        (5,225)

9,775

15,000 less:

Less tax @ 10% on 2,230                       (223)

Less tax @22% on7,545                       (1,659.90)

13,117.10

Divide by 12 for PCM pay after tax        1,093.09

2008-09

Salary:                                                        15,000

Less personal tax free allowance:           (5,435)

9,565

15,000 less:

Tax off the lot at 20%                               (1,913)

13,087

Divide by 12 for PCM pay after tax            1,090.58

Tax fans will have spotted that I haven’t taken the National Insurance off. That’s because I can’t be arsed, but it’s also because the rates for NICs are only going up by the normal amount. I’ve done the fiddly tedious sums and it doesn’t make much difference – brings the monthly pre-inflationary difference from 20 quid down to 17. Gee, thanks. (See comments)

I mean, I’m sorry, let’s just say this again – Labour have raised taxes on the lowest earners and they have got away with it. Once more, with feeling…

So why at the end of January was the FT carrying the story that a study of April’s changes by the Institute for Fiscal Reform will advantage the richest and the poorest? Ah, of course! Tax credits! The removal of the 10% band is not a swingeing and senseless assault on low incomes after all! It’s done so that the government can spend money collecting the extra money, then spend money administering the extra money and messing it around a bit, then spend more money giving it out to (some of) the people they took it off, then spend yet more money checking they’ve done it right and taking it back off some people chosen apparently out of a really short-tempered and unreasonable hat (a sort of antithesis of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, perhaps). But it’s really worth the extra trouble and expense, because you see, this way the government will have seen the money, and held it for a minute, and they now know it’s there, and know where it has gone.

A tremendous pity therefore that a few days later in the FT there was a gleeful piece on a recent report which says (and this is an executive summary) that tax credits are still rubbish. So by the lights of the original IFS report, Labour’s plans for the 2008-09 tax year are currently advantaging the rich only. But hey, never mind. I’m sure it’s just a question of a better management hierarchy, more targets and some motivational speaking.

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