How long before Russia seeks a Cyprus naval base?

Posted on March 18, 2013

The EU’s latest step to “solve” the Eurozone crisis is the pillaging of the savings stored in Cypriot banks. It’s not hard to see the various harmful implications – a collapse of confidence in bank saving in Cyprus itself, a blow to the already miniscule levels of confidence in banking elsewhere in the EU, further reductions in bank capitalisation as savers realise the mattress is the safest place for the cash and so on.

One aspect of the affair that has yet to be widely considered, though, is the opportunities this offers to Russian foreign policy. Russians are the largest group of foreign savers in Cyprus (some legitimately, others less so), and the Russian government has loaned billions to keep the faltering Cypriot state and banking sector afloat.

Now, with Cyprus plunged into a new crisis, Putin’s Kremlin is reportedly “considering” the generous step of extending the existing loans and possibly offering more. The question this raises is simple: what will the Russians want in return for their kind helping hand?

The answer is disturbingly self-evident. Only this morning, the Russian navy announced it was to establish a new, permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean – the first since the post-Soviet retreat of the early 1990s.

At the moment, the Russians have a naval facility in Tartus, a port in Syria. Their shameful solidarity with Bashar al-Assad has been motivated at least in part by the desire to keep a foothold in the Med, but their ally’s position of power is now in doubt. At any time the Syrian regime could fall, and be replaced by a government of rebels who are unlikely to look kindly on hosting a naval base for the chums of the dictator they have just unseated.

So the Russian Mediterranean Naval presence needs a new home. Cyprus seems the natural place – it’s at the Eastern end of the sea, close to allies in Syria and potential enemies in Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran. Most compellingly of all, Cyprus is broke – and evidently ready to do just about anything for cash.

When the Eurozone’s fans say the single currency protects our security, I’m not sure a new Russian naval base on our doorstep was what they had in mind.

How high taxes killed our belief in helping others

Posted on January 08, 2013

When all factual and economic arguments have failed, Britain’s proponents of high taxes fall back upon philosophical justifications for their position. “Tax is the thing that makes us civilised”, they declare, “It brings us together as a society”.

Such arguments are dragged out to perform again and again, like those 1960s pop acts who were fleeced of their retirement pots by unscrupulous managers. Of course, there’s no actual evidence for them – that’s the point, they are declarations of conveniently unmeasurable truths.

But even such intangible claims are starting to look shaky. As the debate about cutting benefits for the better off intensifies, it is increasingly clear that high taxation has killed our national sense of helping others, of the well to do making sacrifices to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Just look at the row over Child Benefit. There was a time when people recognised that if they earned a good salary, they didn’t really need welfare to top up their income – whereas others who were barely getting by did.

Now, the letters pages and radio phone ins communicate a very different world view. Those who have been squeezed over and over again by successive Chancellors grabbing at their earnings, their savings, their pensions, their petrol bills and their pasties want something back in return. The idea that just because they might be earning £50,000 a year then they shouldn’t get Child Benefit enrages large numbers of people – the payment is one of the few things they get back from the large amounts they have to pay to the Exchequer.

That is a remarkable shift from the widespread sense of “middle class oblige” that once existed to the far less attractive sight of well-heeled parents defending their right to be welfare recipients.

But people who want to hang onto their payments cannot be blamed for feeling that way. It’s a natural reaction to want to get at least a bit back when you are shelling out a small fortune every year through constant, multiple taxation. It is our politicians, and particularly the high tax lobby, who are responsible for the near-total erosion of that sense of sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course it is an absurdity to pay welfare benefits to the well-off. It is a perverse interpretation of a welfare state that was intended as a safety net – particularly at a time when there are plenty of families who can only dream of earning £50,000 a year. Worse, it means cycling cash through a wasteful tax collection and benefits payment system, only to return some of it to the pocket where it originated.

The welfare bill must be brought down, and the just way to do that is to withdraw benefits from those who need them least. High taxation has driven out the sense of responsibility which would once have made that the obvious and natural thing to do for most Britons. Far from making us “civilised” or “bringing us together”, overfeeding the tax man has made us selfish. Taking more and more money from workers has made them grip what they have left all the tighter.

The moral case against high taxes must be made or – counter-intuitive as it may seem – the moral case for helping others will continue to fall on deaf ears.

UK Uncut have made a fatal error

Posted on December 10, 2012

UK Uncut has a pretty simple mission. They think corporate taxes should be higher than they are. Therefore they protest at the shops and outlets of the brands they have judged are not paying enough. The objective is to force the companies to cough up over and above their legal requirements out of a combination of shame and commercial inconvenience.

It’s a pretty messy approach, catching customers and ordinary staff in slanging matches which should really be between activists and Chief Executives. It has also led to UK Uncutters getting remarkably outraged about the idea that a company might have the right to not allow them on their property.

Last week, the movement had its first major victory. Starbuck’s buckled under the pressure and agreed to pay £20 million to the taxman which it does not legally owe. It was a jubilant moment for the high tax pressure group, but within days they have managed to turn their first victory into what may very possibly be their last.

Successful political campaigning is about stick and carrot, pleasure and pain. I want you to change your position, and to persuade you to do so I need to do two things: 1) make your current position extremely uncomfortable and 2) make the new position I am proposing much more attractive.

UK Uncut have done the first thing pretty well. Aided by the Guardian, which itself uses some complex but entirely legal jiggery pokery to keep its tax bill at a minimum, they have driven large amounts of negative media exposure for the firms they target at the same time as besieging their shops and cafes until they are forced to close. Like the Sith, they may be using their powers in the pursuit of the wrong ends, but you can’t deny their Force is strong.

So, having hammered Starbucks into submission and extracted voluntary payments into the Exchequer as planned, the next step would naturally be to congratulate them. End the boycott and move on to other targets, now the precedent has been set, proving to others that doing what you ask will bring rewards.

But, instead, on Saturday HMRC’s little helpers were back at Starbucks’ door – shouting at customers, grappling with police and making a general nuisance of themselves. Just as they did before the baristas opened their wallet.

This is a fatal error. The message UK Uncut have sent is that if you do what they ask in response to their beating you with the stick, they will put the carrot away and hit you some more.

Other UK Uncut targets will have been watching closely. When Starbucks took the plunge, they will have wondered if they should follow suit – particularly if it would be worthwhile to save them the disruption caused by these fiscal versions of Mary Whitehouse.

The lesson they will take now is precisely the opposite. Why bother bowing to UK Uncut’s demands if your reward is more punishment, more heckling and more trouble? Unless their tactics change, I suspect we won’t see anyone else do what UK Uncut want for quite some time to come.

The outfit selling Thatcher death t-shirts is taxpayer-funded

Posted on September 12, 2012

There was understandable anger at the news this week that t-shirts urging people to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave were on sale at the TUC Congress. While disgusting, sadly it’s nothing new that the hard left have some pretty unpleasant opinions – as I’ve reported on this blog in the past.

What is more worrying is that the organisation selling the t-shirts, the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre, is apparently taxpayer-funded and closely tied to parts of the political establishment – far from being the independent loons the media reports have so far portrayed them as.

Take the following items as evidence:

- According to the DUWC 2011 Annual Report,  their Chairman is Cllr Graham Baxter MBE, the Leader of North East Derbyshire Council, who uses his introduction to the report to rail in a partisan way against the “Tory County Council”

- On page 8 of the same report, the “Fundraising” section lists money received from Bolsover District Council, North East Derbyshire District Council and Chesterfield Borough Council, as well as grants from no less than 11 County Councillors

- The Summer 2012 edition of their “Solidarity” newsletter headlines on a new campaign launch attended by Dennis Skinner MP and Natascha Engel MP, and thanks 5 County Councillors for the allocation of their 2012 taxpayer-funded grants

The DUWC may well do a lot of valuable work – certainly you can see the potential for an organisation offering impartial advice to jobseekers. However, it seems they’ve crossed a line a long time ago from helping unemployed workers to campaigning on a party political basis in a rather unpleasant way.

Until they go back to focusing their efforts on their proper, worthwhile mission, it is surely inappropriate for them to be using taxpayers’ money for partisan campaigns.

Political Scrapbook want to have their pasty scandal and eat it

Posted on May 30, 2012

I’m a fan of Political Scrapbook – acerbic and witty, they embrace a tone of blogging that many of their fellow travellers remain snooty towards. Today, though, they’ve struck a bum note.

 

Revealing eagerly that:

“Throughout the controversy over George Osborne’s “pasty tax”, huge donations were made to the Conservative Party by the owner of pasty firm Ginsters – sparking a row over whether the donation may have been in support of the tax on hot pasties (Ginsters are known for cold snacks) or to protect their emerging line of heated snacks.

Mark Samworth, who heads Samworth Brothers which owns the Ginsters brand, gave £100,000 to the Tories, between the announcement of the VAT change in the budget and the government’s volte face on Monday.”

they conclude “could this be an emerging “cash for pasties” scandal?

As John Rentoul might say, this is very much a Question To Which The Answer Is No.

The awkward thing about the Scrapbook story is rooted in the fact that they are not the first to allege these donations were dubious and related to the pasty tax.

They suggest today that Mark Samworth was giving money to the Conservatives to buy a u-turn over the pasty tax, on the flawed assumption (presumably from people who’ve never eaten a Ginsters) that his pasties are all sold hot. In fact, Ginster’s products are mostly sold cold.

Amusingly, that fact was the reason given by the Labour Party as recently as Saturday – crucially, before the u-turn took place – when they alleged that he was, err, donating to the Tories in support of the pasty tax, on the basis that his business is based on selling cold pasties.

Which is it? Was he a fan of the tax, donating to say thanks, or an opponent of it, donating to get it overturned? At the moment, Political Scrapbook and the party they support have managed to allege both.

In fact, Ginsters mostly sell cold pasties – a business model that benefits from the pasty tax – but had recently expanded into hot food, a move that would suffer from the tax. Cutting the tax may hit their core business, but raising it apparently hits their expansion plans, so there’s no clear motive either way.

Those who seem obsessed with hammering Samworth whatever happens need to make their minds up – he can’t be alleged to be buying influence on both sides of the same debate. Apparently, they’ve decided he is a target and will shift their conspiracy theories 180 degrees to fit the latest set of events, regardless of what they’ve previously said.

It seems that when it comes to seeking out wrongdoing, Political Scrapbook on this occasion want to have their pasty scandal and eat it.

 

++UPDATE++

Interestingly, since I first made this point in a comment on Political Scrapbook this morning – a comment which they still haven’t published – they’ve changed their text (without posting it as an update) to add in the following:

– sparking a row over whether the donation may have been in support of the tax on hot pasties (Ginsters are known for cold snacks) or to protect their emerging line of heated snacks.

That wasn’t present in the original post, suggesting that to at least some degree they’ve realised the illogical and unfair allegations they were making, but don’t seem willing to apologise to Mr Samworth or confess the error to their readers.

The benefits cap debate – a win for Ministers, and an economic fail for critics

Posted on January 23, 2012

The furore over Iain Duncan Smith’s proposed benefits cap was predictable, and Ministers have merrily sailed into it for two reasons – because a high profile fight on this topic brings them an electoral advantage, and because they knew the Left would swallow the bait in one great, unthinking gulp.

The idea that no household should get more than £26,000 in benefits – equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 – is overwhelmingly popular. British voters subscribe to a strong idea of fairness, particularly when it comes to the idea that working should be more rewarding than not working, and they have been outraged by numerous reports of large families living at no cost to themselves in huge, overpriced houses in particular.

The critique of the proposals coming from the Left, notably from Lib Dem Guardianista Tim Leunig, is fatally flawed because socialist economics fails to recognise that the economy is dynamic. You can’t change one input to the system without others shifting in response – both when macro market forces and micro human behaviour are involved.

The flaw comes when they crunch the numbers. Leunig’s Guardian piece claims to calculate that the benefits cap would leave people living on 62p a day. The most crucial element of his workings is that a 4-bedroom house in Tolworth costs £400 a week. That’s true right now, but it wouldn’t be the case once a cap has been brought in.

The truth is that some of the main beneficiaries of overly high benefits are private landlords. They may not get payments from the DWP direct, but they reap the cash anyway through inflated rents, secure in the knowledge that every time they put the price up, benefits levels are raised to pay them. This is a racket, exploiting the foolishness of officials in pumping more and more money out and the absence of taxpayer power to rein in this behaviour.

Tim Leunig is right that if rents were fixed as they are now then his hypothetical family would pay£400 a week. But rents aren’t fixed, they are fluid. If you remove a large amount of cash from the system then prices will fall. By arguing for the system to remain as it currently is, rather than accept a cap, this supposed “progressive” is effectively fighting the corner of benefit-farming landlords.

There are knock-on benefits to removing the artificial inflation in rents, too. If renting property out becomes less profitable, the desire and the financial means to buy-to-let will be reduced, helping to address the shortage of affordable housing that is so often highlighted as a problem.

This is why we can expect IDS to be intensely relaxed about this fight gaining so much publicity. When it comes down to it, he has public opinion and solid economics on his side.

Kent County Council’s “vampire killer”

Posted on January 20, 2012

Kent County Council’s Youth Service Transformation Consultation was never going to be the most exciting public process in the world – that is, until the war against the undead cropped up.

Among the obligatory quangos, District councils, MPs, PCSOs, parents and young people listed as responding to the consultation was one “First Sergeant”, whose occupation is listed quite prominently as “Vampire Killer”.

Sadly, the submission made by the modern-day Van Helsing of Kent has not been published. With council tax at the rate it is, perhaps he now views Kent County Council as a bloodsucking institution in its own right…

Hat-tip: Eagle-eyed Paul Francis, the ever-excellent Political Editor of the Kent Messenger for the original spot

Send a message to Bob Crow

Posted on November 29, 2011

Unions are set to go on a mass walkout tomorrow in the name of protecting the status quo – a status quo in which public sector workers with better salaries and better pensions are subsidised by prviate sector workers who earn less and get poorer pensions. Tomorrow the nation’s lucky few will be striking and marching for the right to be permanently propped up by struggling masses worse off than them.

Conveniently the RMT, one of Britain’s most extreme defenders of systemic public sector privilege and the voice of well-paid tube drivers everywhere, have a poll on their website, asking:

Should public sector workers take strike action to protect their pension entitlements?

The results already stand at 53% No, 45% Yes, so it’s not looking good for Big Bad Bob Crow. Let’s give it a helping hand – cast your No vote here (it’s on the top right of the RMT site), and help drive the message home.

Taxpayer-funded striking union sponsors Ice Hockey team

Posted on November 17, 2011

The Trade Unions are large-scale consumers of taxpayers’ money. They eat tens of millions of pounds on the supposed basis that they are strapped for cash and ordinary taxpayers somehow have a responsibility to pay for their political campaigning and fat cat bosses. In 2009/10 their subsidies totalled a remarkable £85.8 million of taxpayers’ money.

But are they really so hard-up that they need the public to be forced to bolster their funding?

The GMB, for one, apparently has plenty of cash going spare. It turns out that they sponsor their own, err, Ice Hockey team – the Nottingham Panthers. Or, to give them their full and official title the GMB Nottingham Panthers.

What public good does it serve for the GMB to splash cash in this way? For that matter, how does it serve their members to dish out sports sponsorhip?

If they can afford to become the name and shirt sponsor for a sports team, then they clearly don’t need so much support from the ordinary taxpayers of this country.

Of course, in return for their subsidy from hard-working taxpayers, the GMB is repaying us by going on strike on 30th November.

Any GMB members unsure to do with this extra day off need not worry, though – they can always go to see their pet team the GMB Nottingham Panthers play away against Cardiff Devils on the same day…

Ken ne regrette rien

Posted on November 10, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present the first video venture from CrashBangWallace.com. It explores all the things Ken Livingstone should be – but isn’t – sorry for from his terms as Mayor of London. Ken ne regrette rien…

Appropriately, Ken’s been shooting his mouth off again recently – this time telling LondonlovesBusiness.com that it’s ok that he’s matey with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the extremist preacher who argues violence against Israel is justified. In fact, is there anything Ken has done that he’s ever said sorry for?

This is a man who drove Londoners’ council tax through the roof, ditched City Hall’s reputation into the gutter and “reached out” to Islamist extremists in an official capacity. Why should anyone give him another chance to do it all again?