Wednesday, May 11, 2011

George Osborne and the Axis of Charity Evil

You know you're doing something right when George Osborne thinks you're the scourge of society. In a marvellous speech of his today at the Institute of Directors, I learned that organisations like the one I work for are apparently now the "forces of stagnation". Having set out his stall as "unequivocally pro-business" and extolled the virtues of deregulation and low taxes (for which Miles Templeman, outgoing Director General of the IoD, has - quelle surprise! - been a "tireless advocate"), he went on to say:

"Delivering this will not be easy. The forces of stagnation will try to stand in the way of the forces of enterprise. For every line item of public spending, there will be a union defending it. For every regulation on business, a pressure group to defend it. Your voice, the voice of business, needs to go on being heard in the battle."

I'm confused, George! Yesterday we were the Big Society. Today we're the Forces of Stagnation. I don't know what to think any more. I suppose I'll just have to carry on thinking that you're a horrendous Thatcherite idiot.

Really, I just do not know where to start with this bullshit. I think the thing that annoys me most about it is the way that civil society groups are presented as the vested interests, while business leaders asking for lower taxes and less regulation are "tireless advocates" for what's best for Britain. Honestly, what exactly does he think the IoD is if it's not a pressure group? But it's the good kind of pressure group, the kind that agrees with his neoliberal politics because it's in their direct self-interest. Not the bad, nasty, stick-in-the-mud kind, the kind that defends regulations because... because... um, maybe because it's the right thing to do? Maybe because those regulations are there for a reason? Maybe because they protect vulnerable people who don't have Miles Templeman to stand up for them in the corridors of power?

I've blogged before about the 'Red Tape Challenge', which the government has likened to a trial in which regulations will be deemed "guilty until proven innocent". Soliciting a case for the prosecution and not one for the defence is one thing. Attacking the defence as the "forces of stagnation" is another - and for me it feels like the last straw.

Monday, May 9, 2011

He's got a whole field of ponies and they're all literally running away from his taxes

Today, one of my many news-digest mailing lists informed me that

"Peter Hargreaves has soared 46 places on The Sunday Times Rich List, placing him ahead of musical maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lord Alan Sugar and Easyjet's Sir Stelios Haji-Ionannu."

Peter Hargreaves, I thought. Why does that name ring a bell? Oh yes, it's because back in February, I posted an immoderate rant about an article he wrote which suggested that the government wasn't nearly serious enough about cutting spending and that, if you were filthy rich, the only morally responsible thing left for you to do was furiously avoid paying your taxes.

Peter Hargreaves is now the 65th richest person in the United Kingdom. Peter Hargreaves is a billionaire. Peter Hargreaves' tax bill is probably within the same order of magnitude as the cost of some of the vital public services people are battling to save - my local library, for example. Basically, the amount of tax Peter Hargreaves pays has a not-entirely-negligible impact on the deficit.

Peter Hargreaves does not believe the deficit isn't an issue. On the contrary, he believes it's an enormous issue. Clearly, for every billionaire who pays less tax, the government has a bigger gap to plug, which means harsher spending cuts. So by endorsing tax avoidance, Peter Hargreaves is effectively saying he thinks that money is much better off stashed in his bank account than paying for services for the poor and vulnerable. Not only that, he presumes to moralise on the matter. Is it just me, or is that utterly grotesque?

(Incidentally, Stephen Lansdown, Hargreaves' partner at Hargreaves Lansdown brokers, comes in at a mere number 90 on the rich list, with a piffling £750m personal fortune. Amateur.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Ian Tomlinson verdict should put the CPS on the hook

Very encouraged to see that the inquest into Ian Tomlinson's death has returned a verdict of unlawful killing. The Guardian reports that the CPS is now reconsidering its decision not to prosecute the office who shoved him.

But surely the next question has to be why on earth they made that decision in the first place. The ostensible reason why charges could not be brought was that there was "sharp disagreement between the medical experts" about the causes of death, and that this was so irreconcilable that there was no realistic prospect of a conviction.

It was obvious at the time that this was outrageous: the 'disagreement' was the result of a discredited pathologist giving a dubious analysis which was contradicted by two other pathologists in two independent post-mortems. Now that a jury has considered that pathologist's evidence and dismissed it as unsound, the decision looks indefensible.

As I understand it, in order to decide not to prosecute, the CPS has to be pretty damn sure that there is simply no way a jury could come to a guilty verdict. In this case, a jury not only could: it effectively has. That is surely enough to demonstrate that the CPS acted improperly in pre-empting deliberation of those issues by the criminal courts.

I hope the CPS comes under serious pressure over the coming days and weeks to explain itself - and that questions are asked about the real motives for its original decision.

(Incidentally, it makes me very angry that this verdict has not been enough to prompt an urgent question in parliament - neither was Tomlinson's death at the time, although we tried our best to get one - yet some smashed windows on the anti-cuts protests apparently were. In my experience - with a few honourable exceptions - this is completely typical of parliamentary and government attitudes to police treatment of protesters, and it's unacceptable. In our political system, the state's use of violence is supposedly legitimated by parliamentary democracy. If parliament shrugs its shoulders when the police kill an innocent man, that notion massively loses credibility.)