Honestly, is there a more disproportionately over-politicised tax? Two problems with this ‘ere idea of Darling, darling!‘s idea to temporarily suspend stamp duty.

1. It won’t work, according to Dr Cable.

2. It won’t work, according to Everybody Who Has A Job And Lives In A House.

Our Vince’s problem is that artificial boosting is the last thing we need in an overheated market that badly needs to be allowed to recover naturally (though he qualifies this carefully in a CiF piece on Northern Wreck, stressing that he is “not arguing for laissez faire” and that mortgage lenders should observe a strict code of conduct when dealing with arrears etc etc). It will also harm the tax take further at a time of natural slowdown.

Everybody Who Has A Job And Lives In A House’s problem is that suspending stamp duty will be about as likely to have an impact on the decisions of the average first-time buyer as the economic stance of the Kingdom of the Potato People. It’s bonkers, this notion that in a market where the average house is worth a sum approaching 1000% of the average salary that the alleviation of a 1-5% sting in the tail is going to be the occasion for anything other than hollow laughter. And let’s be clear, Darling, darling!, first time buyers is what this is all about. If the government really is barking enough to want to kickstart an overheated market, then they’ve got to introduce significant supplies of fresh demand rather than start a game of state-sponsored musical chairs among existing home-owners. And they’ve chosen one of the Ways Least Likely to do it.

What are these people thinking? Not just the politicians who periodically try to make political capital out of lowering/scrapping stamp duty “to help struggling first time buyers”, but the journalists who apparently wipe their brains of everything they know off by heart at a dinner table for long enough to write a report on it with a straight face. Where does it end? Any chance the press team would consider testing the point with a press release explaining how the Liberal Democrats plan to help struggling farmers by giving them all a free packet of Baby Bio?

Sometimes I wonder if I am an alien sent here for the purposes of research with a modified memory which  is getting a bit worn and needs a new Imporosity Patch, and so memories of the economic circumstances of my home planet keep leaking through (whaddya mean, you never get that?) Because the one, the only, the sole way this insane proposal would make sense would be if everybody was paid in bubble mixture and a decent house costed a small handful of lentils and stamp duty was compulsorily rendered in bits of yellow string, and it was generally possible to achieve an barter rate of 1,000 lentils per pot of bubble mixture but yellow string was absolutely unobtainable unless you were a lentil quadrillionaire. Is this how it works on earth, then?

Yesterday I fell off my chair. Or, not so much “off” as “through”. The chair broke, you collect. With hindsight this was not terribly surprising, not so much because I was sitting on it (don’t be so damn rude) as because the chair is about seventy years old and has seated several generations of skimbly pre-and post-war Mortimer forebears before playing host to my much better-nourished posterior.

In the People’s Republic we have always been peasantishly bad at throwing things away (as you might gather from the provenance of the chair) if there is any chance that sufficient duct tape and a funny little wiggling motion every time you pick it up/switch it on/put weight on it in future will rectify the problem. Accordingly, since the basic joinery of the chair is perfectly sound, I have temporarily knocked its warring components back together with a hammer, and am now sitting on it again, taking great care to ensure I don’t work too hard nor get too exercised on Comment is Free. But it is still going to need some sort of metal bracket nailing across the bottom of the frame, to brace the seat against the assault it will suffer tomorrow night when seven other drunken women come over for dinner.

Simple, I think, I’ll nip up the road to, er… Following the closure of Bond & White, the local DIY store, to make way for Planet-fricking-Organic, where the hell do you go in Muswell Hill to buy a hap’orth of nails, or whatever it is, and funny shaped bits of metal? Woolworths? Not for long, it seems. I miss Bond & White. Going in there was like stepping into a seventies sitcom and playing the part of Woman Customer. It was the only shop anywhere on the broadway or for quite some distance around that sold anything remotely hardware-related, and it seemed, to my inexpert eye, to stock everything. The nearest comparable range must have been in one of the giant chain stores on the north circular, which is useless if you haven’t got a car.

This isn’t a precious selfish rant about the death of the small shop – those are alive and well in most of London – nope, it’s a precious selfish rant about the death of the shop that sells, well, useful stuff that ordinary people need to make way for yet more luxury wankfestery. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that markets are blind. They’ll correct, but they’ll correct to the advantage of those with most input into the market. So in a rich area, you get rich people’s shops, in a poor area you get poor people’s shops, and in mixed areas… you get rich people’s shops.

In other words, there’s no problem with being a small shop on Muswell Hill Broadway, but there is a problem with being a small shop that sells a packet of nails every six months to a girl with a broken chair on Muswell Hill Broadway. All the people who form your main customer base, because they own their own homes and are allowed to do shit to them, are the kind of people who will also have cars and are able to make the trip out to the cheaper chain stores on the north circ. No one, except people like me, comes to the Broadway to buy nails any more.

No, most people come to the Broadway to pick up a few bits at M&S, grab the Guardian from WHSmiths, buy a chicken brick from The Scullery for Lottie to take back to university, take a fancy to an adorable little £150 dress from Leila (and that’s just the men), moon over the cheese counter in Feast and pretend they are some sort of Chaucerian goodwife throwback and now, presumably, feel up the pre-packed mixed seeds and nuts (so knobbly!) at Planet Organic. When they want a nail knocked in, they call up an Eastern European migrant in Tottenham and ask him to come over and bring a nail with him.

London, darling, it’s been wonderful, but I’m leaving you.

After a year’s light snoozing, the Labour party has belatedly realised that the last budget delivered by their Iron Chancellor-as-was will have the incidental effect of making poor people worse off in 2008/09. The scrapping of the 10p band, as reported heretofore, will make everyone on an income of below about £18,000 worse off before inflation from 6th April next week.

I must hand it to them, for they are charmingly worried and concerned. Oh dear! Making poor people worse off? That’s not right, is it! Why only the other day, Eric Martlew, MP for Carlisle, received a complaint in his surgery from a disgruntled poor person who was about to get even poorer!

Here’s Nia Griffith, a parliamentary private secretary at Environment:

We have always wanted to support those on lower incomes, we have done an enormous amount with things like the minimum wage to raise people out of poverty. I think therefore anything that hits people on lower incomes is perhaps something we are particularly sensitive to in the Labour party.

“Perhaps”? “Sensitive to”? Bravo, Nia! Have you ever considered becoming a candidate?

Of course, Gordon’s answer was that tax credits made up the slack, and to be absolutely fair to him, in Gordon’s head they probably do. Only we don’t live in Gordon’s head, praise the lord. Onlookers report that the MPs muttered discontentedly at this, doubtless because they are perfectly well aware from dealing with gruelling queries in their constituencies that not everyone on a low income is eligible for child tax credits, which do exactly what they say on the tin (only not necessarily, and we might take the tin away again). Something must be done! Say, can we talk this policy over, Gordon?

It is, of course, far far far too late. You useless numpties.

UPDATE: the FT  is now carrying this story as well, with extra added numpty quotes.

Benefits fall into two categories. There are the benefits that are the stuff of Daily Mailesque nightmares, and then there is the chichi San Franciscan make-up brand. I aspire to the latter but must, it seems, make do with the former.

I sat down one long winter evening recently to play with my accounts. I rather fancied I might be due an NIC repayment, you see. I was shocked, and I mean that sincerely. It would appear that since I quit full-time work last April I have earned a grand total of a little under seven thousand pounds. How the hell have I stayed alive? There have been handouts from Mummy and Daddy Mortimer, to be sure, but generally on the scale of “Have a £70 Sainsbury’s shop before you starve to death” rather than anything more substantial. It’s amazing what you can get from Sainsburys for seventy quid, obviously.

Bugger this for a lark! thinks I, I have a Republic to run! So off to Wood Green I went with a sheaf full of paper documenting my financial fecklessness, filled in a surprisingly clear and straightforward Housing and Council Tax benefits form (admittedly it helped that I wasn’t blind, disabled, council-housed, Welsh, seeking asylum, a parent, a criminal, an offshore oil-rig worker or a previous claimant) and let the nice man take photocopies of everything. As an economic liberal I am opposed to Housing Benefit because it effectively channels state money into the pockets of buy-to-let private landlords. As a person without any dinner, I really couldn’t give a toss.

And this morning, three weeks to the day, a fat Haringey Council envelope plops onto my doormat, and a fat Haringey Council Benefits officer’s letter abjures me, fatly, as follows:

We need some more information to work out your benefit…

Uh-oh.

The payslips you provided for Reed Employment are not in a weekly consecutive order. Please provide your consecutive payslips for the last five weeks.

No, like you, dear reader, I don’t know what the fuck that means. They’re not in order you say? Could you not, um, shuffle the bits of paper round, or should I come and do it for you? I gave them three months’ worth of payslips, and a printed summary of the same directly from the Reed Employment website, but because in the nature of temping you don’t work every week, there weren’t five consecutive weekly dates on the five most recent payslips.

Please confirm how many hours per week do you work for Reed Employment

Oh you are fricking joking me now, right? Ever heard of “temporary work”?

So on to the phone I go, steaming from both ears and ready to take on the “computer says naaaaaaaah” culture so ably lampooned by the Cleggster in his conference finale speech and…

…Adam from Haringey Council Benefits Office is immediately sympathetic, understanding, helpful and even has a little laugh with me about the stupidity of a system which alleges to help those in unstable financial situations and yet doesn’t officially acknowledge the existence of any non-standard employment pattern. He says I should just state in writing what I’ve told him and everything will be fine.

Hmph, I bet you’re disappointed now. I know I was.

* I too am on benefits.

We are very good citizens in my flat. We nobly take it upon ourselves to drink as much beer as possible in the interests of being able to recycle our collective bodyweight once a week in tinnies. Undeterred are we by our official demographic classification as young female problem binge drinkers. We recycle about half our rubbish, which is pretty good going given that we don’t actually have a recycling collection and have to tout it along to North Finchley under our own steam, or, in fact, petrol.

Under the government’s “pay as you throw” scheme, originally proposed last May as part of the “Waste Strategy for England 2007″, which would tax people on the amount of rubbish they failed to recycle, I reckon we’d come out smelling of Dettol. But it seems there won’t be a need for  extra push in rinsing out the Dolmio jars because, in the words of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Communities, Local Government and That Sort of Thing, the government has now “mounted a whole-hearted retreat from even the limited policy set out last May”. If you can’t quite bear to read the whole 34-page report (you funny old thing), the Torygraph summarises:

Members of the Commons local government committee described plans for just five pilot schemes, beginning in 2009, as a “messy compromise” and accused the Government of a “loss of courage” in the face of criticism.

Cool beans, I say. The third biggest thing wrong with the idea was the embedding of microchips into wheelie bins, which as a vignette on the loss of privacy is just comically grotesque. The second biggest thing wrong was the fact that no-one controls what rubbish comes into their house. Until you tax supermarkets on surrounding their products with all this guff in the first place, you have no right whatever to tax individuals on what they then do to get rid of it. Some (yes, you!) will mention market correction at this point. To this, I say pfah! I also say that waiting for the market to correct and supermarkets to catch on would be unacceptably messy here, because by then certain levels of revenue would have come to be expected of the scheme, and the shortfalls as packaging reduced would be made up god knows how – but we can safely assume, not through corporation tax.

The biggest and most important thing wrong with the idea is that it wouldn’t work, and I’ll tell you why. We don’t have a wheelie bin, nor do any of the other five flats in this building, nor the further eighteen flats in this block, nor the thirty odd further up the road. Because we live over the shops, you see, and don’t have a driveway or a garden path or a kerb amongst the lot of us. At certain predefined times of the day we are permitted to take our rubbish out onto the Queen’s Highway and leave it by the smart little black and gold Haringey street bin (which does to be honest make one feel slightly like a scroat. It’s like when I’m buying gas in the newsagents and all the middle class mummies around me who thought I was One of Them freeze in shock and edge little Daisy and Isabella away from me).

But we’re talking about a small row of buildings - what about big estates? Most of them have communal bins – who is to say which households are recycling and thus deserve the “rewards” and which are naughty stinky poo-poo households who should get taxed? Are they just going to let everyone with any of sort of communal bin arrangement off? Somehow, I really doubt it. After all, it never works in reverse – my flatmate’s car got towed recently and she was warned she’d have to keep it on “private property” until she could get it re-registered and the tax renewed. Have you ever tried to explain to someone in Swansea what it’s like to live in a second-floor flat in London? It took us the entire morning and eighteen phone calls to find someone we knew who had some private sodding property.

Given that these sorts of problems will exist everywhere where communal front doors exist, I can’t be all that sorry that this scheme has been dramatically reduced. And given that I am, by most standards, a greenie control freak who would be quite happy to BAN cars from central London (apparently that’s “not liberal”, they tell me), that is saying something.

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.

No-one came particularly well out of Panorama’s Bursting the House Price Bubble programme last night (though arguably better than the People’s Republic came out of University Challenge with an all-time low of one correct answer, and certainly not as badly as the cute little baby deer came out of David Attenborough’s new Life in Cold Blood series. Or rather didn’t.)

The featured property developer, Morris Properties, looked a lot less pretty than their brochures. Apparently they diddle the land registry into recording higher selling prices for their properties than was actually paid so as to keep the market buoyant, and also waive deposits from the buyer without telling the banks, who as a result are the only klutzes to have actually shelled out for these places. Ooh, clever. A fraud investigation is underway on behalf of the poor little banky-wanky-woos, who after all are only international multi-squillion dollar operations and therefore cannot possibly be expected to do complicated things like display a modicum of common sense about sloshing money at people.

Stand down, the banks are safe. But unless I am much mistaken we were also invited to emote on behalf of the buyers. Now, these were not your ordinary buyers. They were buy-to-letters, the explicit target market of Morris Properties, whose shiny promises I forget exactly, but the small print was something along the lines of “If you keep your fat middle-aged cash out of deposit accounts and pensions and all those other silly unsexy things and instead buy one of our rejuvenated rat-holes in the gun-heavy area of Nottingham, you will achieve rents of seventy thousand pounds per week and be a billionaire in one-point-three minutes (subject to market fluctuation).” Summat like that. The presenter at one point offered the puzzling shock revelation that the buy-to-let market was “totally unregulated”, by which I guess he meant it was no more regulated than any other corner of the housing market, but was particularly infested by buyers who haven’t a clue what they are doing. This is not necessarily a coincidence. I guess (I fondly imagine) there’s something about handing over x hundred thousand pounds of your own money when you don’t already have a home that makes you careful, and counteracts any natural tendency to cretinism you may have.

No such natural restraint was in evidence here. Apparently we were supposed to feel sorry for these lackwits who blithely believed the developer’s estimate of projected rents in the area without so much as turning on a computer to get confirmation, and who happily remortgaged their own living space in order to lord it over other people. Because that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it. Call me an unreconstructed cynic, but moi, I say bollocks to your retirement plan, it’s about being on a ladder above someone else who not only can’t afford the second property that you can, but can’t afford a first – what used to be called a “home” – either. Why else is the bumf littered with all that high-end market speak? Become a “property millionaire”, own a “property portfolio”. You’re buying into an aspiration there – the idea of having a property portfolio has been associated for so long with the kind of people who tend to lounge on yachts. Hey! Maybe if I buy a rathole in Nottingham and condemn another set of human beings to live in damp drudgery in it because they don’t have a choice, I too will lounge on a yacht!

A harsh judgement on a bunch of credulous bumblers whose age makes the prospect of ever extracting themselves from this mess unlikely? Bah. Of the three buy-to-letters featured, two of them hadn’t even seen the properties they bought. This isn’t about the fact that they were stupid enough to put their own houses in hock on the hardly disinterested say-so of a shiny brochure. This is about the fact that they saw no affront to human decency in not personally viewing the properties they were going to be personally responsible for foisting on other human beings in the way of living space. I am continually left open-mouthed by society’s attitude to rental property. I remember once being taken around Islington by an exceptionally nice estate agent with whom I was genuinely getting on well right up to the point when he said “Of course, people are fussy about the size of the kitchen, or whether there’s a garden or whatever, but it’s only rented, isn’t it.” Er, yes. And we have to LIVE there, this is where we will be conducting what laughably passes for our LIVES for the next six or twelve months. Somewhere about the People’s Republic I’ve got a little scrap of paper which I tore out of the furniture section of Loot for the express purpose of exercising my blood pressure (I have very low blood pressure) which carries the following ad for a sofa: “good condition but dated design; ideal for a rental property”. What in the name of arse makes you think that I’ll be happy to sit on some pile of tired old crap that you wouldn’t have in your own house? Oh no, wait, that’s a totally meaningless questions because I don’t have a choice, do I. Silly me.

When you stop to think about all this for anything above twenty seconds, whoever you are and whatever your situation, you will realise that this is just a bit sick. When did we lose sight of the basic truth that house and flats are there to be lived in? It came back rather quickly to haunt one of the buyers, whose own house is now (ooh! the delicious irony!) in danger as a result of her failed buy-to-let experiment. There’s a decent chance she’ll lose it by 2009, or as she tremulously put it, “By this time next year I could be . . . homeless.” No, you terrifyingly self-absorbed baby-booming old baggage, you’ll be a private tenant. Come on in, the dry rot’s lovely.

* Living space and, er, schadenfreude

I don’t tend to use this blog as a platform for having a go at people who are technically still children. It seems a bit, well, non-LD. Nor am I socialist enough to be gratuitously rude about rich people per se without a good reason. After all, many of my dearest friends are rich people. Damn them.

But the People’s Republic is in sore need of an easy target to break a recent bout of blogger’s block, and I’m willing to take a punt and say that Cheltenham Ladies’ College schoolgirls are almost certainly never going to be any of my favourite people. I can say this in safety at the grand old age of (now) twenty-nine since it is a statistical probability that I have already made the bulk of my best friends, and the chances of my having to make an embarrassing climb-down are remote (prove me wrong in the comments and see just how pink I can go). Furthermore, they make up a fabulously small and probably unremittingly Tory slice of the electorate. Plus, despite my rapid rate of ageing, I’m still in that perfect bracket where it’s permissible to have a go at young people and tell them they’re talking complete bull and not be accused of being a jealous, creaking old fartbag. No, on the whole, I am content to stand up and be counted as an enemy of Cheltenham Ladies’ College and all its works.

So, what the hell, I’m going to tear a strip off one of the simpering, over-entitled little madams for causing trees to be cut down in the cause of some self-absorbed ropey old toss called An A-Z of Teen Talk (as if any vaguely sentient person between the ages of 13 and 19 would ever describe themselves as a “teen”). How was this shocking waste of cultural brainspace allowed to happen? Apparently, she came up with the idea after her father claimed not to understand a word she and her sister were saying to each other. Somehow I find this really difficult to believe. It only takes a slightly enquiring mind to take on board new linguistic usages. My own father is currently in the habit of adding “an’ shit” onto the end of every sentence, after the Armstrong and Miller chav pilots sketches, and my mother works in Youth Services and collects new gems all the time - a recent favourite was “I mean like, go there, innit” which we agreed, over tea, to be an incredibly sophisticated construction whose interpretation is as follows:

My opinion is [filler] that one shouldn’t consider this course of action and I know it to be likely, given your various experiences in the area under discussion, that you agree [filler].

What marvellous economy and creativity went into producing that pared-down phrase. “Don’t go there” is already abstract slang - to trim it still further while retaining the meaning is a triumph of pithy sophistication. Simpering schoolgirl and I agree on that much at least.

In fact, that in itself gives me pause for thought – what normal child does this sort of thing? Whatever happened to alienation, disaffection, having your stomach pumped? Why is this chirpy media-friendly sprig embarking on a career as a by-the-till dross-spinner and beaming out of my broadsheet in a pretty polka-dot dress, rather than huddled up  on a beanbag clutching a bottle of Diamond White with over-mascara’d tears running over her pustules and plotting her revenge on an ungrateful world? I’ll tell you why, it’s because she’s a dangerously over-privileged poppet who already knows for an absolute fact that said world will never, ever shit on her. Oh bwahahaha, that’s like sooooo funny, it’s like sooo much of a like cultural trend, I should like sooooo write a book [upward emphasis].

So much for her stomach-churning good intentions to aid parental understanding. The underlying reality is of course a stone-hearted determination to keep herself in Accessorize goodies for life by publishing “updates” and probably, by and by, “commentating” on related yoof issues. Have you ever been in the Cheltenham branch of Accessorize? It is terrifying. They stop at nothing. Nothing. And nor will she. Your worldview will be contaminated with her complacent, self-important little rich girl chatter for years to come. You read it here first.

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

A serious-looking A5 booklet fell out of the Grauniad last weekend. Ah, I thought, another timely retrospective of Frieda Kahlo which I shall keep carefully on the floor for some months and mean to read in odd moments, only admitting that no moment is quite odd enough when the booklet has developed a thin patina of sticky fur.

But no, this is The Green Guide, and I flick through to see if there is anything whatsoever I don’t know about lightbulbs, roof insulation, leaving appliances on standby and the remainder. By the seventeenth page of promotional material I have twigged that this is not the usual exquisitely overthought series of Grauniad mini-essays with inset-box vignettes and a postgraduate-level bibliography of further contacts.

This is a 64-page advertising barrage exhorting me to replace my boiler, fit a water meter to my toilet, stick solar panels to my roof, do an environmental audit on my gerbil, open an ethical bank account with a monthly premium and give a tenner to the Forestry Commission every time I use my hair straighteners or else risk being a BAD PERSON. And you don’t want that. Do you.

At first I think myself profoundly depressed by the sinister emotional tools available to green marketeering. And also by the way it reduces environmentalism to the level of lifestyle choice - green marketing has become part of the same marketing “family” as the Boden catalogue. Don’t you want to be irrepressibly happy, middle-class, environmentally conscious, dressed in high-grade combed cotton tops and inclined to leap into the air with a wide grin? What’s wrong with you?

Then I realise that actually I am just resentful because I don’t own a boiler, a toilet, a roof or a gerbil, and therefore no-one is remotely interested in marketing any of this conscience-jangling shit to me. Second class citizen in environmentalism, as in everything else. I’m supposed to just turn the TV off standby and be happy with that, am I? Bastards.

I have put the Green Guide carefully on the floor in case I need it again.

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