British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Archive for November 2008

Prostitution, pimps, trafficking and criminal intent

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There is an interesting post over at Power to the People on the government announcement that they intend to introduce new legislation to protect women that have been forced into prostitution by people traffickers or pimps. The post does not cover the rights and wrongs about prostitution, but instead the issue surrounding a fundamental change to criminal law, in that there is no need to demonstrate intent only “strict liability”.

The following paragraph probably sums up best the argument contained in the post:

I am no law expert, but by introducing a “strict liability” clause into criminal law, (I believe it is already used in civil law), means a serious criminal offence can be committed without there being any intent. Now I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but this legislation means that even if a man asked the necessary questions and was given the appropriate responses, he is still playing a game of Russian Roulette, with odds that would not be lawful in a casino! Worst still, the man doesn’t even need to have sex in order to commit the offence, he just has to conduct the transaction.

If true, this is a very worrying precedent being set by government ministers, perhaps made worst by the fact that Harriet Harman is actually a QC. She more than anyone must know the consequences of a piece of legislation that can find a man guilty of rape simply because he conducted a transaction for sex with a prostitute.

Surely this is what is wrong with this government. They try and intefere in everything, with little or no knowledge of the problems, issues or implications. It is always a sledgehammer to crack a nut, draconian and penal laws introduced against a backdrop of political correctness or a wish to grab the headlines. The Big Brother Database was one way in which this government attempted to run roughshod over the civil liberties of the people of this country. Now they seek to introduce a strict liability clause which means that no ‘act’ has to take place for a very serious offence to have been committed which could result in a life sentence.

Vulnerable girls forced into prostitution are entitled to and must be protected. However, the laws are already there for the police to use, so why don’t they? If 70% of the girls are working under duress, then the police should have no problem bringing prosecutions. I don’t know how many ‘sex transactions’ take place everyday, but if 70% of them could lead to a serious offence being committed, surely the courts will be inundated with criminal cases. Also, we need to start building new prisons now, because I suspect, that this law will not stop the oldest profession in the world. In a worst case scenario, it could make the girls more vulnerable and drive it underground where it will be impossible to protect them.

Those that sponsor or support this bill in its current form should hang their heads in shame for they seek to change a fundamental aspect of criminal law in this country and fail to achieve the objective set. As for Jacqui Smith and Harriet Harman, they should resign immediately, because they have demonstrated that they are not fit for the high offices that they hold.

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Has Hazel Blears been reading our blogs?

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Based on an article written by Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears for The Guardian newspaper, it is a reasonable question. Especially given she naively attacked political bloggers a couple of weeks ago. Now she appears to have used these same blogs for her own research into what is wrong with politics. In this particular article, she was specifically taking a swipe at the BNP, no doubt because they make an easier target than other mainstream political parties. But, as we know, her comments could apply to any party that is gaining votes at Labours expense. Here is a summary of some of the points she made.

  • Politicians from all parties must work hard to win back the trust and confidence of disaffected voters by proving that mainstream politics has the answers they seek
  • Politics required a revival of local political culture, a significant shift of power from the centre to the community and politicians who look and sound like the people they represent
  • Estates have been ignored for decades; voters taken for granted; local services that have failed; white working-class voters who feel politicians live on a different planet

Now of course, delivering rhetoric is one thing, delivering solutions is quite another. As we know, Hazel Blears may be vocal and enjoy getting her name in the press, but lets face it, not many people hang onto her every word. So whilst it is a pity that a more serious politician did not make these comments, lets hope one of them can read, because she does get to the root cause of why so many people feel both disenfranchised and disaffected with politics.

Of course there are many other issues, such as the creation of a nanny state, the constant waste of taxpayers money, the government’s introduction of Big Brother, voyeuristic, privacy invading, civil liberty busting programmes designed to control and oppress the people of this country, as well as, of course, the complete screw up of our economy. However I believe there are two comments that she made that are particularly relevant today and those are ‘politicians need to look and sound like the people they represent’ and ‘voters feel politicians live on a different planet ‘ . 

These two comments could not be applied exclusively to the Labour Party, although that would be an excellent start, they would apply to MP’s of all parties. With only a few exceptions, once our members of parliament are elected, and they enter the house of commons, they really start to believe that they are a cut above everyone else and power goes to their heads. The only time they become ‘human’ again, is when they are begging for our votes! Most MP’s are, or become in a very short period, pathetic self-serving, self-righteous, self-obsessed dickheads, interested in the position, rather than the responsibility or why they were put there.

Nonetheless, as always, Hazel is keen to highlight problems. However as with most Labour MP’s (and David Cameron), short on ideas of how to address them. May I suggest therefore, that a good start is for the main political parties to start selecting the person they want to represent them at election time and in parliament, from ordinary citizens, rather than career politicians or party activists? Party activists and career politicians lose their personality or individuality on the way, learn to do as they are told, rather than what is right and more often than not, are the very people that see getting the job as more important than doing it. Better surely, that prospective MP’s are selected based on a passion for their local community, values and making a difference, rather than simply seeking a political career?

Anyway, at least we know that whilst Hazel Blear may not like the home truths that arise from those prepared to take the time to comment on political issues, at least she is prepared to accept some of them may be quite pertinent. Even if she is not capable of making a difference.

Members of Parliament and Honesty

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Have we all become immune to what MP’s do and say? In all walks of life, honesty and integrity are valued commodities and yet, when it comes to members of parliament, how often are we left wondering about what they are telling us? We should be entitled to expect, from those elected to represent us, the highest levels of honesty, integrity and candour. Not many of us can claim to feel enlightened or reassured after receiving utterances and platitudes from our members of parliament. Now, I know that not all MP’s seek to mislead and there are some that respect their positions, as well as their constituents and act with conviction, but there are all too many that do not, therefore, I do not apologise for choosing to generalise.

The terms ‘Right Honourable’ is supposed to mean something, a gentleman and man (or woman) of honour, but in recent years the term has lost its shine and, in my opinion its value. I am not just pointing the finger at the Right Honourable ladies or gentleman from the Labour party, we could also address the same issue at some of the previous administrations. However, for the time being, I want to concentrate on recent history, given New Labour has, arguably I accept, taken matters to a new level over the past 11 years.

Take Gordon Brown’s and Alistair Darling’s claim that our economy was better placed that virtually any other in the developed world, to handle and recover from a recession. In spite of the fact that this government has some of the best economic brains, albeit contracted in at great expense to the taxpayer, how could they not have known what the IMF knew? That in fact, we were likely to be the worst affected country by the world recession, at least in terms of the developed world.

Take for example, Gordon Brown’s world of economics. According to him, our national debt is 37% of GDP, against a figure of 44% in 1997. Before I deal with the reality, it is worth noting that in fact, it was actually 43.4% and as many will recall, we were actually coming our of a recession at that time. Similarly, GDP was considerably lower in 1997, than it is now, so percentages can be misleading if used in the right, (or wrong depending on your perspective) context. However, Gordon Brown has actually re-written the rule book, because for him, what is classed as government debt is different to what most other agencies, such as the Office of National Statistics and many other experts would accept.

For example, Gordon Brown omits from his figures the debts related to Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and Network Rail (the latter being £17bn). As if this was not enough, there are the long term liabilities related to the governments Private Finance Initiatives, estimated to total some £170bn between now and 2032. There is also, the unfunded public pensions deficit of £780bn. If all these figures were taken into account, conservative estimates have claimed that this deficit is equivelent to £76,000 for every single household in the UK. The fact that Gordon Brown has written his own rules does not negate the fact that these a very real liabilities, so the public must ask themselves why they are not included in the figures, as indeed, the ONS believe they should be?

Of course, if these debts were taken into account, Gordon Brown would also have broken his so called “golden rules” ages ago and his reputation for prudence would be in tatters. So is it vanity? Whatever it is, at best, Gordon Brown appears to want to dupe the public, lull us all into a sense of false security. Far be it for me to accuse Gordon Brown or anyone else of being dishonest, but I could, I am sure, safely argue that he has been a little economical with the truth insofar as government debt is concerned. Therefore, my question is, can he be regarded as a truly honourable gentleman demonstrating honesty, integrity and candour? Of course he is not alone, many would argue that Tony Blair was not completely frank with the public over the so called “weapons of mass destruction” that were supposed to be in Iraq, but of course, never existed.

Other members of parliament and cabinet ministers are also frequently guilty of a failure to answer difficult questions by side-stepping them or choosing to ignore them. This happens, of course, all of the time at Prime Minister Questions. Yet MP’s are elected officials, answerable to the electorate, therefore we are entitled to honest answers to direct questions, anything less is not the action of an ‘honourable gentleman’ or ‘honourable lady’. Once again, I cannot accuse every member of parliament of being guilty of a failure to act with honesty, integrity and candour at all times, equally, I would not have the time, certainly in my lifetime, to name all of those MP’s that genuinely do have a question mark over the comments and actions. Perhaps I would find it more acceptable if the were not referred to as ‘honourable’ or ‘right honourable’, because that tends to suggest that they have much higher standards than my own. But whilst only being able to speak for myself, I can say, with all honesty, that I have much higher standards, than many of these honourable ladies and gentlemen, as do many of my friends and colleagues.

I am sure when new members of parliament are first elected, they have for the most part, genuine and sincere intentions, but it doesn’t seem to last long. As soon as members of parliament join the club, they seem to remove themselves from the real world, their views of their constituents appear to be to change, now they are just “people”. Those that are members of one of the main political parties are no longer entitled to act independently, instead they must toe the party line. How can that benefit local constituents? Once someone has been elected to parliament and becomes an MP, they join a very exclusive club, with just 648 members. This seems to go to their heads, as does the way in which people address them and elevate them, to many this changes their perspective and the role, or more accurately the title, becomes all encompassing. Quickly forgotten are the ‘people’ that elected them to this position.

In my view, many of our MP’s believe that it is a game, perhaps a game of cat and mouse, between the MP’s and the public, MP’s and the press and of course, MP’s and their opposite numbers from other parties. It is, for all intents and purposes, a theatrical production, parliament’s version of Eastenders! Take PMQ’s for example, how often have we heard a carefully placed questions from, for example, a Labour party MP, which allows the prime minister to preen his feathers and tell us how much he has done for us? How often have we heard David Cameron ask the prime minister a question? Gordon Brown doesn’t answer the question and he is let of the hook by the leader of the opposition. Why, are we all being played here? It certainly feels like it.

How often have you watched a government minister get a “grilling” and asked yourself why certain questions aren’t being asked, or why the minister has been able to get away with avoiding the original question? The truth is, in many, but not all cases, the minister already knows what questions are going to be asked, or they have placed certain questions off limits. In addition, there are for example, many ministers who will only be interviewed by certain interviewers, this is because in their constant game of cat and mouse, each party needs the patronage of the other. A minister doesn’t want to be treated too shabbily and the interviewer, wants to have as many ministers as possible on his or her programme. They win, we lose!

The bottom line is MP’s are very much a law unto themselves. They vote on their benefits, salary, pensions and expenses. The golden rule seems to be, don’t get caught, not don’t be naughty. They have their very own parliamentary committees, membership of which, is often as a reward for some political favour or other, or perhaps a shortcut for a knighthood or place in the House of Lords. Even the parliamentary standards committee is, in effect, another club acting like stewards rather than policemen. In many cases, MP’s are guilty of hypocrisy of the highest order. Take for example expenses, whilst the rest of us have to submit receipts for everything we buy in the course of our business, they do not when it is under a certain value, because they are seen as honourable. The amount of course, has recently fallen. Other expenses that MP’s can claim include kitchens, furnishings, rent on a second home etc., many of these items would be considered a ‘benefit in kind’ to me mortals like us and therefore, we would be taxed on the value. Not so members of parliament.

Our MP’s can work the system if they wish, to maximise the allowances permitted for a second home, for example, they get to choose which home is their principal place of residence. They can decorate them, furnish them and claim other allowances, that mere mortals like the people that actually elected them, could only dream of. Now, I accept, that MP’s salaries are not particularly high, but it has to be said, most  MP’s would claim it is a vocation, they want to make a difference, that they are not doing it for the money etc. However, a system that relies on every member being honest, is subject to abuse, particularly given disciplinary action if any, is only normally taken if they are found out, as I have already stated, this game of cat and mouse.

In another example of the hypocrisy demonstrated by our members of parliament, take the databases that they insist we must be included on, you know…. what we do, what we say, where we go, our medical history, what our children do, our DNA, who we call etc., it doesn’t apply to MP’s because of the “security risk”. Don’t worry about us, the destruction of our civil liberties, our right to privacy and freedom of speech, so long as MP’s are exempt, that is all that matters.

Now I accept that this posting takes a very cynical view at our members of parliament, but that is how I feel. In a world where we are constantly told that we should all be treated equally, that we must not be subjected to any form of persecution, I feel persecuted, by the very people elected to represent me. I feel they are taking me and everyone else as a mug and I don’t like it. I believe that they are supposed to act with the utmost honesty and integrity, that they must remain answerable to the electorate throughout their period of office and if they are found to have misled or lied to the public, they should be stripped of office, no matter what position they hold. Why, because they are supposed to be honourable, they are supposed to represent everything that we hold dear and yet may of them, would not be fit to wipe our boots. If our members of parliament cannot be sincere, honest and act in the interest of others instead of themselves, what type of example are they setting the rest of us?

Little wonder that so many people feel so disenfranchised with politics, the fault lies firmly with those members of parliament and more specifically those cabinet ministers that treat the public with disdain and contempt. Those that fail to act honourably, but feel the art is not getting caught with your pants down, those that fill their own pockets, whilst emptying ours. Those that fail to accept any form of responsibility when something goes wrong. Those that say one thing and mean another, those that provide executive summaries to sell policy, yet seek to remove our liberties, rights and/or money in the small print. Above all, it is the fault of those members of parliament that think they are better than the rest of us, those that believe their own publicity machine and those that would readily, willingly and consistently take advantage in that most cynical of ways of the very people that elected them into a position where they could be described as honourable.

Do not bank on the banks

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My attention was turned to an interesting post over at Power to the People which followed on from my own post in respect of a bankers claim that “banks are not charities“. The post that I am referring to relates to corporation tax that banks would normally pay and comes at the whole issue from a perspective I had not considered, but is, nonetheless, very relevant in the current economic climate.

As everyone knows, the high street banks are posting massive losses as they move to write-off questionable assets and large consumer debts. However, under the current HMRC rules, they are entitled to carry over losses to offset against profits in future years. This means, that in spite of the significant risks being borne by the UK taxpayer as a direct consequence of the banking bailout, when things improve, there will be no win for us. In other words, the big banks, will not have to pay any form of corporation tax for some considerable time to come, perhaps, in some cases, for the next 5 years.

This, whilst perfectly legal, is an outrageous state of affairs and in my view, must be treated as an exception to the rule. Gordon Brown must bring in urgent new legislation to prevent the banks carrying forward these massive losses to set off against future profits. The principle of carrying forward losses is a good one, however, in this particular instance, it would leave the taxpayer with a very sour taste indeed. Failing which, the government must advise the banks that they could be subject to a windfall tax equivalent to any loss to the Exchequer in terms of tax revenues. The full article can be read here: Will taxpayers lose out to the banks again?

The folly of a reduction in VAT

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Suggestions by so called experts and hints by Gordon Brown that the proposed tax reductions will take the form of a VAT reduction will be a complete waste of time. Whilst I accept that Gordon Brown may want to adopt his usual smoke and mirrors approach to how much a tax cut is worth, no-one will believe him, with some justification. A cut in VAT is a reduction in a consumption tax, this will not make people feel as if they have more money in their pocket, instead, they will just feel that their money goes a little further on some vatable items, which excludes groceries, utility bills etc.

By way of an example, a £50 item with VAT charged at 12.5% instead of the current 17.5% would see a reduction of just £2.50, assuming that retailers and traders do not use the opportunity to shore up their own margins. Would this be enough to get people into the high streets spending their money, I think not? Retailers are giving far more away in so called special offers. But from Gordon Brown’s perspective, he can hail it as a massive giveaway, given he is prone to use an over simplistic, almost child-like set of sums, that allows him to maximise the value of a tax breaks, even in the full knowledge that the impact on government finances would be a fraction of the number made public. We have seen this time and again in his budget speeches, anyone remember the 10p tax debacle?

If any package is going to work, then the public need to know that they have more money in their pocket, it would be a hard sell in the current climate to convince people that their money will simply go further. In addition, this is one of those occasions when Gordon Brown must not try and bulls**t the public, nor should be tinker with taxes, it needs to be a bold and dramatic cut in direct taxation, something in the order of a 5% reduction in direct taxes. Anything less is doomed to failure and as anyone with half an ounce of commonsense knows, a delay in a period of such a significant loss of confidence and economic downturn will lead to a prolonged recession or require a much larger cut in the future.

Much is being said about how to pay for the tax cuts. Well there are any number of government projects and initiatives that could be curtailed or cancelled which need not affect education or health services, a good start would be to look at the vast sums being spent on information technology projects, with highly questionable returns. That notwithstanding, the government has no choice, they must give the economy a boost, irrespective of what it does to the short-term finances of this country, one thing is for sure, other developed countries will, in spite of Gordon Brown’s suggestions, not because of them.

However, the government must not stop at personal taxation, they also need to look carefully at small business. This sector has been severely affected by the downturn, in terms of less business, slower payers and bad debt provisions. Given the SME sector employs some 12.5m people, it is self-evident that many will be struggling given the tax on employment (NI) and tax on business (business rates) that the government use to punish enterprise. They will need a package of measures which includes, but should not be limited to, a reduction in business rates and the reversal of employers NI contributions for those that employ 10 people or less. Given many will struggle to make a profit, there is little point, at this stage, in reducing corporation tax, although is has to be said that Brown’s recent increases in corporation tax for small business, does not encourage entrepreneurship, so much for being business friendly.

David Cameron is due to provide his suggestions for tax cuts today, but given he is not in government, I doubt that will make much difference to our everyday lives.

Welcome to Big Brother Britain

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Well all is not as it seems. This is not a sign in the arrivals hall at Heathrow, although it probably should be, instead it is a big welcome to the new political blog Big Brother Britain & Civil Liberties. The initiative of the author of Power to the People, with contributions from David Davis, it is destined to become a leading site for resisting and highlighting attempts by the Labour government to do away with our long held and highly prized civil liberties.

There are quite a few blogs that deal with civil liberty issues and political blogs that touch on so called Big Brother issues, however, this particular blog is intended, as I understand it, to bring all of these topic under a single umbrella. The author has made it clear that he is keen to have as many people as possible contributing posts and comments in order that it can quickly become an authorative reference site and be used as a campaigning blog.

I have agreed to write posts for the Big Brother Britain blog and I would urge others to offer similar tangible support. Together with the RESIST initiative introduced by Shrewd Mammal, there is a real opportunity for some momentum if people with similar concerns get behind this initiative and support, contribute to and visit the blog.

UK banks are not charities

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A senior figure at one of the major UK banks was quoted on Channel 4 News as saying that “banks are not charities“, needless to say this coward was not willing to have his name revealed. But what hypocrites these banks are, they claim that they are not charities, yet they clearly think that the UK tax payers are, after all, only a few weeks ago, they had to come begging for our help.

It is well known that high street banks are the most loathed businesses on the high street and their leaders and managers are, for the most part, considered with the same disdain as politicians. But, what arrogance they demonstrate, these people (high street bankers) made the decisions that ended up with their banks having to come begging for help, they made it easy for people to borrow, they were the architects of their own demise. Now they seek to lecture the government and issue a veiled threat to the very people that have risked their money to protect the interests, jobs and shareholders of the high street banks. They are pathetic, blood sucking creeps, that do not deserve their vast salaries and positions. How dare they lecture us, fair weather friends indeed. I hope this idiot has the courage to ‘own’ his statement, rather than hide in that cowardly way, only politicians and bankers know so well.

I stated in my post yesterday that the public should, when practicable, vote with their feet and punish these bankers by withdrawing funds and cancelling our current accounts and credit cards with all of the banks that so clearly look upon us as the necessary evil, rather than respect.

I also appreciate that many people will not, at this time, be in a position to punish the banks by withdrawing their business. But I do believe, when we are, that we must deliver a hard-hitting message to the banks that have turned their backs on the very people that came to their aid. The banks cannot survive without customers, fact. Every 10 years or so, they go through a phase of telling us they don’t want current account business and shortly afterwards, they realise that they do and go on a recruitment drive. We should all let them know what we think of them for turning their backs on us. Full article

In the meantime, the government should consider their position carefully, the public will not appreciate our money being risked by banks that have little or no regard for the well being of their saviours and their customers.