Sunday, 27 May 2012

Useless Uncut

For a protest to have maximum impact, it needs to have a clear message, be highly visible, and have a relevant target. It may be disruptive and I may not agree with what the protesters are saying, but that's the price of having such a freedom in this country and I certainly wouldn't change it. It also follows that I have freedom to criticise such protests if I think they are a load of old nonsense, which is exactly what I'm going to do here with UK Uncut's latest publicity stunt:

Hundreds of anti-cuts campaigners have staged a "street party" protest outside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's home in south-west London.

As with Occupy, I can't stand UK Uncut - it's a union front using discredited figures dreamed up by a union-funded "tax expert". It is therefore grounded in ignorance and so doesn't offer an alternative to "vicious, callous ConDem cuts" as it purports. Yesterday was a departure from the usual screaming at branches of Topshop and harassing Vodafone shop workers with Nick Clegg's house in Putney being targeted for an enforced street party UK Uncut style - crusties, dubstep, and SWP placards. UK Uncut are of course heralding it as a success:

In London over 300 people took part in a anti-cuts street party directly outside the Deputy Prime Minister's million pound Putney home. The protest started just before 1pm when six activists in wheelchairs chained their wheelchairs together at each end of his road. Hundreds of protesters who had earlier assembled at four points in central London then arrived at the demonstration, the target of which had been a closely kept secret ahead of the day.

During the family-friendly street party protest, disabled campaigners, mothers with children, public service workers and activists enjoyed music, poetry, comedy, games and held a people’s assembly to discuss the alternatives to austerity.

Hyperbole and boilerplate protest speak all the way. Even if you take their turnout figure at face value, that's piss-poor in a city of eight million people, on a Saturday with glorious weather. The reality of this is that it has achieved fuck all - I don't believe that Clegg's house is a legitimate target; people in the public eye deserve a private life, whoever they are (although his constituency office in Sheffield, which was also targeted, is fair game). Being held in a sleepy residential area meant little, if any opportunity for outreach and the discussion is all around the form of the "protest" rather than any message it was supposed to convey. All of this makes it nothing more than a left-wing circle-jerk as opposed to a movement serious about effecting change.

Addendum to the original post - Clegg wasn't even fucking in when it happened. Idiots.

Friday, 25 May 2012

In Defence of @KerryMP (sort of...)

Looks like an MP has said something controversial on Twitter again:

Since the expenses scandal, MPs have been forced to slum it with the povos in second class when they take the train. Because of this, MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy has belatedly discovered the chav, and she's not happy. Quite honestly, this should be a complete non-story; I hate chavs and if Ms. McCarthy's account is accurate, then he was acting like a cock and deserves her ire. The problem I have with this is summed up nicely by Josh Kay and Owen Jones:

Kerry McCarthy being, of course, a Labour MP. 

This non-story is, at the time of writing, in the top ten most read articles on the BBC News website. It shouldn't be. Personally, I'd rather that anyone could say anything about anyone without this nonsense - the tweets were simply someone speaking their mind, in the heat of the moment, flippant or otherwise. Seriously, how the fuck did we get to the point that something said off the cuff, whether or not it be controversial or offensive, makes the news? An answer perhaps can be found noting the political leanings of Messrs Kay and Jones - they know full well that Labour HQ would have gone all out nuclear on the Tories had the shoe been on the other foot. It's all a bit pathetic really.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pay Up to Target Sainsbury's

I blogged about Pay Up a couple of weeks back where I attempted to give an alternative solution to their issues with low wages. They've released more details of their plans and I'm pretty confident that Sainsbury's is their target - there's an existing living wages campaign by staff, they're meeting at Holborn station just up the road from Sainsbury's HQ, and they follow the corporate Twitter account. I'll give £20 to the charity of Pay Up's choice if I'm wrong.

Unfortunately, a serious and sensible debate between staff, unions, and Sainsbury's themselves could really do without being undermined by this:

Bring your drums, pans, whistles, alarms, horns, speakers, and other noise making devices. The big corporate target will be revealed and we'll be paying them an intimate visit in this launch party.

And the inevitable pitching of tents and super-gluing themselves to the windows...

On a final note, the Pay Up website mentions this little stat:

The company in question has seen profit's rise 299% over the past 7 years, whilst workers on low pay have experienced real terms pay cuts.

The seven years part seems a bit selective, I wonder why that number?

2011 Underlying profit before tax - £665M
2004 Underlying profit before tax - £675M


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Consensus Fail

After they had finished burning cars and smashing in shop windows during the riots over a Tesco opening near Stokes Croft Bristol last year, the locals decided to fight back in a more peaceful way and set up a rival - The Bristol People's Supermarket:

This community-owned supermarket will support people at every stage of the supply chain, offering a fair deal for everyone by selling good quality local and fairtrade produce at realistic prices.

Sounds great and hard to disagree with anything there. I wonder how this all works then?

Unleashing the collective genius: authentic self leadership
We believe that people are much more likely to contribute their gifts and talents if they feel a sense of ownership and control and that they are growing and developing through their invovlement in a project. Therefore we have developed a flat structure where no one person is in charge and at present no-one is paid. As far as possible we use consensus decision-making – but only where pragmatic and practical. We are working hard to not throw the baby out with the bath water in our move away from a hierarchical model of working. It is truly amazing to witness the creative genius being unleashed through this equinaminous way of working. Everyone involved is stepping up to be an authentic self-leader, neither waiting to be led, nor striving to dominate. Big Society, pah, real society is where we’re at!

Oh. Fuck. No. But wait - bad news:

Setting up any kind of business requires a clear formula, a unique selling point in the community, and dedicated leaders to enact it. After a frank discussion we decided that Bristol People’s Supermarket has none of these.

Yep, it's closed, in fact it only ever opened twice in the form of a market stall, demonstrating perfectly that consensus decision-making wastes everyone's time and gets fuck all done.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Ooh, nasty...

Despite not being into role playing and Dungeons and Dragons, Knightmare was my all-time favourite TV programme when I was younger. Being one for nostalgia, there's a chance that Challenge TV might buy the rights to show it again. Of course this needs people to show an interest and therefore anyone reading this who is interested should drop Challenge a quick message on their media of choice to show their support. So, it's down to you now watchers of illusion...

May Not Occupied

In case you missed it, Occupy London held their final action of Occupy May on Tuesday. This time the target was the British Bankers' Association HQ on Old Broad Street. A turnout of 80 assembled at Russell Square before heading to their destination, shouting at branches of Lloyds and Topshop on the way. When they got there, they demanded a meeting with CEO Angela Knight which, and I suspect this came as a surprise to them, was granted. The day got virtually no press coverage but Bloomberg ran an article with the details:

“She listened to their views and explained how the U.K. has a world-leading banking center, employing around half a million people and making one of the largest contributions to the country through tax and charitable giving,” the BBA said in an e-mailed statement. “She said she understood the concerns of the group, had no doubts about their sincerity.” The meeting lasted about 25 minutes.

This is simply the BBA following its remit of promoting and defending the industry, and they've done exactly the right thing in meeting the protesters. You'd think that Occupy would be spinning this as a victory but there is nothing that I can find on the many, many websites that they maintain, not a word about the meeting or even the day itself. This is extraordinary, especially as they've actually achieved something for once! The same thing happened when they met Hector Sants from the FSA last year - barely a word was mentioned about it afterwards. What I reckon happened in both instances was that they were completely out of their depth in dealing with people at the top of their game, who were acting reasonably, and attempting to engage with empathy. Therefore they were unable to challenge or persuade them of their arguments, that's if they had any in the first place. It's yet another example of the complete inability of Occupy to work with others, send out a positive message, and bring people onto their side. Look at their write-up of the 12th May protest; it's entirely negative, written with an oppression complex with no mention of what they achieved on the day. The one comment from someone who appears generally supportive of Occupy is heavily critical about the number of drunk and stoned people there.
Overall, Occupy still have no coherent message and nothing positive to say; occupying being the end rather than the means of their actions.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

An Empty Protest in an Empty City

The Guardian and the BBC reckon that around 300 people turned up for the Occupy "Meet the 1%" protest. They kicked off outside of St. Paul's to give the impression of greater numbers, it being the only area in the City with any significant footfall at the weekend. The reality of the meeting the 1% part of this protest involved marching past the empty offices of a list of targets that they had drawn up. At one point, someone wrapped Occupy police barrier-style tape across the entrance to Goldman Sachs. Whoever was operating the Occupy London Twitter account seemed bemused that the Deloitte office was shut and therefore no one to actually meet. Finally, they ended up at the Bank of England where tents were inevitably pitched. Not wanting another St. Paul's camp in the making, the police invoked section 14 of the Public Order Act and gave them 45 minutes to fuck off. There were the usual accusations that the police were acting unlawfully in trying to move them on followed by cries of police brutality as those who remained were dragged kicking and screaming into the police vans.
There's a surprisingly Occupy-friendly article in the Mail although rather amusingly, it has been astroturfed to hell by Occupy supporters - come on guys, you could get away with that in the Guardian or Independent but this is the Mail for fucks sake. Overall media coverage of the day itself has been low key and focussed on the arrests rather than whatever message it was that they were trying to convey. Therein lies Occupy's major failing; that it is all about occupying and the occupiers, with occupying being the end to the protest rather than the means. Who, in a deserted City of London, did they think was going to take any interest?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Not Understanding the Deficit

There's a statistic doing the rounds in Lefty circles at the moment and is being promoted by my Occupy "friends". It originates from the Michael Meacher letter in the Guardian that I blogged about the other day:

The richest 1,000 persons, just 0.005% of the adult population, increased their wealth by £155bn over the last three years. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

The Left don't seem to get the deficit; it's the difference between what the government spends and what it collects in taxes each year, with the former being greater than the latter. The options to reduce or clear it are to increase tax revenue, cut spending, or a combination thereof, and with the deficit being an annual thing, this must be repeatable - one-offs are no good because your deficit will return the following year. You would have to achieve what Meacher describes above every year for it to be zero, that is to say taxing the richest at a rate of over 80% on all gains over the past three years every year. I see a flaw here...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Occupy Hat-trick in the Guardian

Looks like I spoke too soon; Occupy got three articles in the Guardian today. First up, we have the inevitable eviction of Occupy Finsbury Square. As I posted last month, the site is majority addicts/homeless now and Islington council is going to clear the site and get them the help that they need. About time too. There's a good series of articles by Paul Davey in the Huffington Post if anyone was in any doubt about the state of the place, and he dishes out some harsh criticism, although appears broadly sympathetic to the movement.

Next is the Occupy Manifesto, put together by consensus of Occupy groups across the world. In a word, it's horseshit. It's on the same level as a toddler having a tantrum jumping up and down shouting "I want! Give me!". The manifesto ends with:

Take to the streets in May 2012!

And they'll be doing that on the 12th when Occupy London will be "meeting the 1%". When they say 1%, they actually mean "wandering around the City of London aimlessly shouting at empty buildings". The 12th being a Saturday means that the City will be more or less deserted, a fact not lost on most of those commenting.

So given another chance to get their message across after the disastrous Occupy CiF last year (Freemen on the Land, 9/11 deniers, undertones of anti-semitism), they have once again made utter tools of themselves.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

PAY UP! (or else...)

With Occupy in the UK being ignored by previously friendly media and UK Uncut losing momentum, there appears to be an attempt by the same people involved to kick off a new direct action campaign, this time on low pay - PAY UP. There's not a lot detail on it at the moment apart from on Twitter but the message appears to be simple - people on low wages can't afford to live on what they are paid with the solution being that big business can afford to pay them more and therefore should. Like UK Uncut before them, it is relying on an emotive issue with a seemingly obvious and simple solution. It also fits in well with the anti-capitalist narrative that runs through these groups. I'll take a different perspective on this however:

1. Someone working full time on the minimum wage of £6.08 is going to have around £1,200 of tax and NI deductions per year. I'd question why on Earth the government is taxing them in the first place and then insanely giving some of it back in the form of Working Tax Credits.

2. As for Working Tax Credits, the Occupied Times article claims that it is a subsidy to the private sector. I'm inclined to agree so ideally we'd stop it, the theory being that wages would have to rise to compensate. There's a big failing in this which brings me nicely to point 3...

3. A lot of low skilled, low waged jobs will pay minimum wage because there is no shortage of people willing to do the work for that sort of money and so there is no reason for a company to increase its costs unnecessarily. There's no shortage of workers because of unrestricted immigration from Eastern Europe - it's unfair to have a go at the immigrants for this though; they're just taking advantage of an opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Be honest, if you could triple your salary by slumming it for a couple of years, you'd do exactly the same.

So if you want to help the lowest paid, I'd suggest tackling the above from 3 to 1 in that order - cut immigration, cut Working Tax Credit, and cut income tax and NI. For these it is the government you need to be talking to.

Ironically, if PAY UP follow UKUncut's modus operandi and force shops to close because of their protests, they will end up leaving the workers that they claim to support out of pocket. If they aren't working, then they don't get paid...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Contractor Hysteria

I thought that the Telegraph had turned into the fucking Guardian the other day when I read the following story and reader comments:

Two thousand senior civil servants could be minimising their tax by being paid off the Government payroll, it has emerged.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the officials would have to prove they are paying their fair share of tax or lose their jobs.

If these people are receiving all the benefits of working in the civil service like the pensions and paid holidays and at the same time being paid off payroll through a company then HMRC is rightly going to kick their arses using IR35 as the boot. Of course this is likely to turn out to be bollocks with inflammatory news articles about "tax dodgers" proving unhelpful, leading to knee-jerk reactions from ignorant politicians, extra work for an already overstretched HMRC, and stress for those under investigation. The truth isn't particularly exciting and doesn't make for good headlines, but read on if you want an explanation...

A contractor will charge the government (or indeed any company) an hourly or daily rate, or fixed cost for work that they want done, usually plus VAT and through a limited company. The government pays this and perhaps reimburses exceptional expenses, nothing more. Because the contractor is not an employee, there are significant advantages for the government in that there are no pensions, holidays, sick pay, and other perks to pay for, and employment rights don't apply so the contractor can be got rid of a short or no notice with no fuss - no redundancy, no tribunals. The whole point of this arrangement is to cover short term skills gaps, be it bringing in a project manager to implement specialist software or an interim director to manage a major reorganisation. The work is usually critical, specialist, and time-bound, therefore this needs someone with a proven track record of delivery but who is expendable when they have finished. It is poor management to bring in a contractor for long term business as usual work.
So what are the advantages for the contractor? Well, there is plenty of variety in taking lots of short term assignments as well as building up contacts, and opportunities to work outside of your usual industry. Then there is of course what everyone is interested in - the money. Yes, there is potential to earn a lot although the reality is not as simple as pocketing your day rate and paying little or no tax, as the papers would have you believe...

To clear up the tax misnomer, contractors certainly can mitigate their tax bill completely legally but there is still plenty of tax to pay.  Consider this - as a contractor, unless you can draw down on savings you will have to pay yourself a salary to cover your regular outgoings. You will pay income tax and employees national insurance on this (at the appropriate rates) and your company will have to pay employers national insurance (13.8%). If the company makes a profit then HMRC will have 20% of that as corporation tax. The remainder you can pay out as dividends, although if you've had a good year and end up paying tax at the higher rate, then there is a further tax charge of 25%. If you've had a great year and pay the additional rate, then it's 36.1%.
The contractor can also claim expenses through their company before tax is paid. Contrary to popular belief, you can't claim your mortgage payments*, utility bills*, holidays, shopping, electrical goods, and clothes**. Some of these expenses are beneficial over regular employment - if you work from home then you can claim costs from your company when you travel to client sites, but others like training, research materials, and specialist tools which would normally be paid for by an employer now come out of your pocket. You also need to cover your pension provision, employers and public liability insurance, professional indemnity insurance, accountancy fees, and filing fees at Companies House.

So there you go - contracting through a limited company is not the tax-dodging scam that it has been unfairly made out to be. Don't forget to set aside money to cover holidays, sickness, and void periods also. On a final note:

Under the new crackdown Mr Alexander will force any official who is not on the pay roll, has been employed for more than six months and is paid over £220 a day – the equivalent of a senior civil servant’s salary - to prove that they are paying their fair share of tax.

If cannot prove they are paying the same income tax and National Insurance Contributions as an employee, they will have their contracts terminated.

If the government forces contractors to pay themselves everything that they’ve billed through PAYE but without all the advantages of being an employee, then nobody will want to take the work on, at least not anyone who is any good. Good luck with that Danny.

* OK, if you have part of your house set up as a permanent office exclusively for business use then you can claim a proportional amount of mortgage interest and bills as a company expense. The reality is that is a massive hassle with tax implications and it is easier just to claim the £3 a week that HMRC allow for this.

** Overalls and protective gear - yes. Suit, shirt, and tie - no.

Dealing with the Deficit

Michael Meacher, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton writes in the Guardian:

The increase in wealth of this richest 1,000 has been £315bn over the last 15 years. If they were charged capital gains tax on this at the current 28% rate, it would yield £88bn, enough to pay off 70% of the entire deficit.

Typical socialist bollocks, but also perfectly demonstrates the scale of government overspend - that even if it was feasible and/or possible to tax all gains made by the mega-rich in the last 15 years, it would only reduce the budget deficit by 70% FOR ONE YEAR. After that one-off, it would rise back to £125B again.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Crying into their lentils...

Occupy London have just been thrown out of Paternoster Square on threat of arrest after three and a half hours of sitting around, culminating a day of action that drew virtually none of the attention that they crave. After being roundly ignored handing out flowers to commuters and dancing to a samba band at Liverpool Street station, they attempted to piggy-back on to the annual union May Day march before ending up in the sea of communist flags and Socialist Worker placades that made up Trafalgar Square. An afternoon march to shout obscenities at Top Shop and intimidate workers and shoppers was the penultimate action before the main event at the London Stock Exchange.  Unfortunately for Occupy, after months of inaction, the Guardian got bored and decided to fly Stateside and cover Occupy Wall Street live instead. But never mind, there is always May 12th where the plan is to occupy an empty City of London by hanging around outside the Bank of England for a bit. I can almost feel capitalism crumble as I type.


From the Guardian:

Boris Johnson's campaign uses offices of firm that paid no tax for three years.

Oh no, evil Tory tax dodgers!  But wait:

The company has insisted it has not paid taxes because it was "growing the business" and therefore had not generated taxable income.

So it didn't make a profit and therefore no corporation tax was due. Problem solved. Fuckwits.

Ed Miliband is an Imbecile Part 2

From the Grand Plan:

Reversing the Tory-led Government's damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period - a £450 boost for a couple with children - immediate help for our high streets and for struggling families and pensioners.

The Tories hiked the standard rate of VAT up from 17.5% to 20% therefore the £450 is the monetary value of the 2.5% difference. It is unclear how "temporary period" is defined but a fair assumption would be a year given that this is the length of time that the previous VAT cut and other tax cuts mentioned in the Grand Plan last for.  It then follows that at the current rate of 20%, Labour's couple with children pay £3,600 in VAT a year or rather, spend £21,600 on VATable goods and services. Large household expenses such as mortgage payments, loan repayments, council tax, train season tickets, and insurance premiums are not subject to VAT. Most essential food items are not subject to VAT. Children's clothes and shoes are not subject to VAT. To have over £21k to spend after tax and after the items mentioned above have been paid for certainly does not strike me as typical. Indeed the poor that Labour purport to defend from the baby-eating kitten-stomping Tories will be nowhere near £450 better off. Highly disingenuous of Ed and Labour. 
Perhaps worse, the last VAT cut was done at a loss to the Treasury of around £12B so expect similar if Labour were to do this again. They are being cagey by not explaining how they are going to fund this, but point two of the Grand Plan gives a clue:

Bringing forward long-term investment projects...

Yep, that's Labour speak for "despite the fact that the country is running a budget deficit of over £120B a year, we're going to borrow even more fucking money."  Idiots.