Saturday, 13 October 2012

Happy 87th Birthday Mrs T

Just like the best Tories my story started in Grantham living in a flat above a shop”. 
This is at the top of all my blog posts and I have a sense of pride in my humble, VERY humble, beginnings (sorry Mr Cameron, I do have a hard luck story!). Today we celebrate the 87th Birthday of that other Grantham Townie whose story started in a flat above a shop. Humble beginnings in Grantham for me included the regular trips to the outside privy and the walk to Huntingtower Road Primary School, at least one of these experiences I’m strangely proud to have shared with Mrs Thatcher. Enough of the nostalgia … the real Tory Story here is the often overlooked message that Mrs Thatcher can give to us all. The Conservative Party is a broad church, inclusive of all and exclusive of none. David Cameron's speech in this year's Party conference reinforced this message that we are not the party of the better off but the party of the want to be better off.( Margaret Thatcher exemplifies this ideal perfectly and we should not only be celebrating her Birthday with her but also celebrating her vision and stoic true Conservatism. The misconception that we are a party of the rich is comprehensively rejected when you stop and see our supporters. True, we have rich and powerful benefactors but for every “Tory Toff” there is a “Champagne Socialist”. The Left Wing obsession with anti-capitalism, Class War and socialism clouds the reality that the country needs equality of opportunity and not just equality. Margaret Thatcher worked so hard to gain recognition and success and can teach us all that it’s not where you’ve come from that’s important, it’s where you’re heading.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Policeman's Bawling

When I see and experience individual police officers acting unprofessionally, inappropriately and over officiously I have no problem with challenging their behaviour personally with them. If I'm still not happy I speak to their superior officer. What I don't do is going running to the tabloid press with a verbatum script. Above all it is a police officers’ first principle to abide completely with the laws we task them to enforce, i.e. the principle of policing by consent. I have a great deal of respect for the Police Services across the UK and am upset by individual officers giving the service a bad name and possibly into disrepute. Let's consider the Andrew Mitchell Gategate affair, currently being exposed in the tabloid press for comments he made to an S06 officer at the Downing Street gates. Downing Street is a public highway. Ordinarily we would have a statutory right to drive down it, walk down it or take a short cut to Horse Guards Road. It is in fact an offence to obstruct this highway without just cause. Understandably HM Government would rather this didn’t happen and so access is restricted using ‘temporary’ but renewable anti-terrorism laws. The gates and police are there for the protection of the Prime Minister and keep people out. They are not there to keep Downing Street inhabitants in. Mr Mitchelll was already in Downing Street so must have been seen by this officer, or at the very least he must have known there was no security risk in letting him out the gates. There is absolutely no reason whatever, therefore, for Andrew Mitchell to be forced to dismount his bike and be ordered to walk through the pedestrian gate. While the vocal left are clambering for resignations the question must be asked as to why the Policeman felt it necessary to obstruct a cyclist’s access to Whitehall when he was lawfully cycling along a public highway. Ironically it’s the Police Officer who could be investigated for offences under the Highways Act.  If I were to be confronted with a police guarded gate across my road and told, for no reason, to walk round onto the pavement I would be entitled to ask why. If I were dissatisfied with the response I would be entitled to get cross. I can well understand there being a ‘heated exchange of views’ and with hindsight I’m sure the policeman and Mr Mitchell would both reflect and possibly regret the actions and words which were exchanged.

By the way, I asked the Bobby in the photo what he was filming and he was more than happy to tell me. Nice Bloke

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Corby, Conservatives and Me

Now that Louise Mensch settles in her new role as the Steward of the Manor of Northstead we look forward to Christine Emmett being a great MP for Corby and East Northants. As a direct contrast to ‘Son of Sawford’, Christine is a hard working individual who is embedded in the real world and not a career politician attempting some form of dynastic fulfilment. While out campaigning for Christine in East Northants I’ve been thinking about East Northamptonshire and the role Corby has played in my life and in me being a Conservative. My whole family are from East Northants and it was my Dad’s recollections of his time in the Corby steelworks which left me utterly flabbergasted at the corrosive effects that excessive and blinkered union power can have on the economy. He worked as a medic and one day his sink needed unblocking. Asking for a plunger he was told that this was the plumber’s job. He expected the plumber to bring his plunger and get the sink working again. What followed was a chain of events all sensible minded people will hope is confined to history. The plumber, accompanied by a plumber’s mate, decided the u-bend had to be removed. As this was painted he said he would need to book a decorator to remove the paint. The reason? …. because if the plumber had removed any paint by simply unscrewing the pipe then the union would complain that a plumber is doing a decorator’s job. The decorator, accompanied by a decorator’s mate, duly removed the paint and the plumber was re-booked to unblock the sink. With the sink unblocked and flowing freely my Dad thought he could now re-open the medical centre, but he was wrong. The job could not be completed until a decorator has re-painted the pipes. A second decorator, accompanied by a decorator’s mate, came and re-painted the pipes and declared the sink useable again. A job, which these days would take about an hour took 2 days. A job which these days would involve just one handy man (or even just my Dad himself) took 2 days and 6 people. My Dad’s experience with Union power in Corby has rubbed off onto me.

A person not being able to just get on with his job frustrated him and was the reason he was a Conservative, the reason why I’m still a Conservative and the reason why Christine Emmett must be elected the Conservative MP for Corby and East Northants.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Avoid Tax - Work as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar

An old joke goes like this.

A man says to a woman "Would you sleep with me for £1 million"
The woman replies "of course"
The man then says "Would you sleep with me for a pound"
And the woman replies "Certainly not, do you think I'm a prostitute"
He replies "We've established what you are, we're just negotiating the rate"

How on earth is this relevant to the tax evasion / aggressive avoidance debate? I was in a restaurant the other day and when I came to pay the bill and punching in my debit card details I was expecting the "would you like to pay a gratuity screen" to pop up. It didn't. I gave the waitresses a tip in cash explaining I couldn't do it on the machine. She said that was right and they all disable that feature on the payment card machine so they can pocket the tips without having to pay tax on it. Never mind tax avoidance this was blatant tax evasion. Based on spend in the hospitality industry on restaurant covers it appears that even the legal efforts of some celebs to pay as little as they can get away with is small beer compared to the combined might of the massive tax evasion potential of waiters and waitresses. There is, actually, no such thing as tax avoidance. Tax rules are so fantastically complex resulting in a plethora of legal ways to pay tax so any informed person merely finds and, of course, exploits, the most efficient way of complying with draconian tax laws whether it's an A-list celebrity or someone working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. The only difference is the degree of avoidance or evasion, the proportion compared to income could easily be the same. The way to clamp down on tax avoidance is to massively simplify the tax system and a non-progressive flat rate of income tax would be an excellent start. Simplification would also massively reduce the head count at HMRC. Head count reduction is already underway, the Coalition just needs to do the next step and reduce the tax rule book.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

And That's Why I'm a Conservative

This piggybank represents perfectly the reason why I am a Conservative.  Just recently this piggybank had been absolutely chock-a-block full of copper coins. These have been counted and are now safely put away in a real bank. But it hasn't always been this way and the story goes like this. In 1990 My wife and I had just got married. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, John Major was the Chancellor and I bought this piggybank from Wigan market. Since 1990 the piggybank has been regularly emptied when times were hard and we needed, quite literally, every penny. On one occasion I remember being so hard up that we had no money other than the coppers we’d collected in this very piggybank so we emptied it then raised the sum total of just over £4 which was just enough to buy some milk bread and a few other essentials to tide us over. As we built our lives and our aspirations were becoming a reality, the piggybank was emptied less and less until it was just never emptied. I remember that grey rainy day in Wigan carrying the pot pig back to our 1st marital home, flat above a chip shop, thinking "wouldn't it be good if this was full of money right now". Over 20 years later, I now know what it feels like to have this piggybank full of money and it feels good! To be honest when the piggybank is full of copper coins there isn't as much cash as it feels, and believe me it's chuffing heavy. It's not the amount of money that is important here it's the fact that aspiration is real and can pay off. Aspiration is knowing that determination will pay off in the end. It’s often like 2 steps forward and one step back, just as this piggybank has had to be emptied on many occasions when times were hard but eventually, through grit and determination, you start to succeed more than you fail and the piggybank stops being raided and starts to fill. To me, the day that I went to my piggybank to drop in 2p coin and found I couldn't because there was no more room was a sign that my life had become a net success. Starting from less than nothing and building your life using your own efforts and energies is very much in tune with Conservative political thinking. The reward of hard work is filling of the piggybank and the safety net of a welfare state is being able to raid the piggybank every now and then. Raid it too much and you run out of money completely, then you’re in real trouble. The piggybank is very much still in use and already has a few coins in it. No doubt over the years it will have to be emptied as you can never tell what life holds but perhaps in 20 years the piggybank will be full again.

And that's why I am a Conservative.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Uncharitable Charity

Water for Kids

I don’t respond well to the hard sell. I was accosted in Leigh Town Centre today by ‘charity workers’ for a well known charity trying to persuade me to sign up a regular direct debit. I already give more than the national average to charity and I choose which charities I donate to. Whenever I give I could keep receipts and declare the donations to the tax man. It’s easy to do and I’d get that rare joy of getting money back from the HMRC. But I don’t, I always make sure that I sign over gift aid so that the tax relief, to which we are all entitled, goes to the charity. Gift aid is a way of making sure the charity gets even more money for their good work. It is most definitely not a way of giving money back to the giver. For large donors to even suggest they will reduce their charitable donations because they will no longer get a rebate from the exchequer for doing so is, well, uncharitable. If it isn’t clear now then it should be made clearer that there is not, and never will be, any limit on the amount anyone can donate to charity. There is not, and never will be, a tax imposed on charitable donations. But in these austere times the country can no longer afford for the largest donations to be made out of untaxed income. The Coalition must not give in to the populist call or the weakness of the Lib Dem component. Tough times require tough decisions and capping the relief on the largest donations to charity strikes me as not a tough decision but eminently sensible.

The picture? A charity very close to my heart. Water for Kids providing safe drinking water to the kids in developing countries who need it most. Donate  ..... and don't forget the gift aid!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Budget 2012 takes the axe to Health & Safety regulation - 150 years in the waiting

Stephen Fry quipped the most sophisticated joke I’ve ever heard during an episode of QI. It was about Peter Bazalgette being responsible for putting s**t back into our homes after his Great Great Grandfather, Joseph, went to so much trouble getting it out. Peter Bazalgette is responsible for TV productions such as Big Brother and Deal or No Deal while his ancestor built the London Sewers and Thames embankments. Joseph Bazalgette not only put a stop to recurring cholera epidemics but also exported his engineering expertise around the world. What a great chap, but it’s his extraordinarily unregulated approach to health and safety that is most impressive. He applied the simple methodology lost on modern day regulators; he cared. With 112 people killed constructing the Hoover Dam and 60 killed building the World Trade Center you’d be forgiven to think many hundreds would have died during the construction of Victoriana’s largest engineering feat during a period of regulatory laissez faire. In fact there were 10 deaths, all of which weighed heavily on Bazalgette’s conscience. We know this because hand wrote a letter of deep remorse to the relatives. His compassionate nature meant that the welfare of his employees was of utmost importance and, as a consequence, there very few deaths and serious injuries in this monumental 19th Century project. What would come as a surprise to the regulators of today is that he managed this without a single health and safety regulation. Of course people are killed and injured at work, and for that there has to be a punishment to fit the crime and for that we have the Health and Safety at Work Act. This Act was emerged from the Heath Government and is the best Act ever made … ever. Its requirements are clear and succinct and the sanctions are proportionately punitive. With a sprinkling of supporting regulations and plenty of guidance this is all we needed. Then the rest of the EU caught up with the UK and we’ve been forced to adopt directive after directive requiring regulations covering, in minute detail everything from going up ladders to using an electric drill. Continental Europe’s codified legal system brought in 6 sets of regulations just to catch up with the UK’s one Act of Parliament. Europe’s system of codified law is completely incompatible with the UK system of common law. This is the problem and the solution must be radical. We must stop blindly implementing EU directives in some cases word for word. The EU needs to accept that the unique way that British law is formulated means that hundreds of EU directives can be implemented by referring simply to the Health and Safety at Work Act and this is no hyperbole. Court judgements, codes and guidance are the defining features of our legal system and do not need to be replicated into yet more regulations. The Government’s drive to deregulate can be given a major boost by simply persuading the rest of the EU that we do things differently over here but just as effectively. If we are insistent on staying in the EU then the EU need to accept this and let the UK implement directives in its own way.