Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal

This is an urgent DEC appeal on behalf of the East Sussex town of Crowborough.

Heavy winds on the night of March 30th 2015 have left the town devastated, and caused a humanitarian crisis worse than any in living memory.

Homes have been destroyed, businesses ruined and in some cases tens of pounds worth of patio furniture upturned. Eye-witness reports of the carnage are still coming through, but our aid workers have sent back this harrowing scene.



There remains an ongoing risk of disease, and with Ocado vans unable to navigate the tree-strewn driveways the spectre of famine still hangs in the air.

Please, give what you can to help these people who in many cases have lost everything of value.

Just £5 will buy them a Starbucks grande mochaccino and a slice of fruit toast.

Just £10 will provide them with a warm sweater from Primark, which they'll never wear because they simply won't support the exploitation of child workers in Bangladesh darling.

Just £5,000 will enable them to cook a warm meal for themselves, by replacing the Aga.

With your help, we can have these poor people back on the golf course or sipping a nice Malbec in no time.

Thank you for listening.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Exclusive - New Alan Bennett monologues revealed

Newly leaked excerpts from the Yorkshire-born writer's latest works show he's moved with the times, incorporating a whole new range of cultural references as we can see from the extract below:

"I'd been listening to my Fifty Shades of Grey audio book, when the phone interrupted proceedings. No sooner had I pulled my Spanx up than it stopped, but by then the moment had very much passed.

So I thought, nice cup of tea with a biscuit. That'll take the edge off. Except all I had in the cupboard were wafers, and they're no good for dunking. Lack the structural rigidity of your traditional biscuit, and the crumbs get everywhere.

I was going to have a stroll to the shops, get myself some nice Rich Tea or a Bourbon. You can get your big shop on the internet these days, you know. Mind, I got myself a bunch of bananas last week and they were already on the turn by the time they got here. Brown as him next door's corduroy trousers.

Bananas were still a new thing when I was young. Sometimes we couldn't even get them, so we painted cucumbers yellow and pretended. 

That all seems so long ago. Take him over the road, not been the same since his wife passed away. Just sits and stares out of the front room window, waiting for death like an impatient Ocado shopper who forgot to press check out.

Course it's all social this and network that now. No matter how far away people are, you can always Skip them. Mind you, I'm not the most technical of folk. I'm more pewter paddler than silver surfer.

Marjorie is on Facebook, thanks to one of those Digital Eagles. I've got a budgie that tweets, but I'm pretty sure it's not the same thing. She told me someone poked her the other day. I said she should tell the police, but she seemed to like it. Back to Fifty Shades again, aren't we?"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A League Of Their Own

The current World Club Series games between Super League and Australian NRL sides have had an intensity to them that is missing from a large number of regular season SL games.

There's little doubt that increasing the intensity of games that English players are involved in will have a knock-on effect on the fortunes of the national team. There have been a number of ways proposed to do this, from getting more English players into the NRL to tinkering with the structure of the Super League to reduce the number of one-sided encounters.

Perhaps the most radical proposal is that of an English based team playing in the NRL itself. So how would it work?

The most obvious issue would be the logistics. A 24-hour flight to the other side of the world and back again every other week simply wouldn't be feasible. An English-based team would have to play its away fixtures in blocks, maybe say six weeks at a time as a mini tour. For Australian teams coming to the UK, the current NRL bye weeks could be used to allow them additional rest after they return. 

The second issue would then be how you build up a player pool for an English side. This is where it would need buy-in from the existing SL clubs, who would need to be convinced to give up some of their existing stars. 

A way to do this may be to run a player draft. The coach of the new side could be restricted to say three English players from each of the twelve SL clubs, plus a handful of England Academy players to pad out the squad and introduce them at an early age to the high standards required.

So how might such a squad look? Arguably, something like this:

Full back: Johnny Lomax, Zak Hardaker
Wings: Ryan Hall, Jermaine McGillivray, Ben Jones-Bishop, Tom Lineham
Centre: Kallum Watkins, Dan Sarginson, Michael Shenton, Chris Bridge
Stand off: Kevin Brown, Stefan Ratchford
Scrum half: Matty Smith, Joe Mellor
Props: Chris Hill, Andy Lynch, Scott Taylor, Kyle Amor
Hooker: James Roby, Shaun Lunt
Second row: Brett Ferres, Joe Westerman, Elliot Whitehead, Liam Farrell
Loose forward: Sean O'Loughlin, Danny Washbrook

The squad could be re-assessed each year, with any players discarded being returned to their home clubs but ensuring no more than three players come from any one club. The likes of James Graham, Mike Cooper and the Burgess twins could be pursued when their current NRL contracts expire.

Not only would it expose the best English players to NRL levels of intensity week-in, week-out, it would also enable them to build up understanding, structures and combinations when they come together for the national team.

While this is currently nothing more than a pipe dream, with the right commitment from all levels on both sides of the world, there's no reason we couldn't be watching an "England Exiles" team playing in the NRL at some point in the future.



Monday, February 09, 2015

Avoidance Of Doubt

Tax avoidance looks like being a hot topic in the upcoming election campaign, with the parties all squabbling (somewhat hypocritically in some cases - Messrs Cameron and Hodge, I'm looking at you here) over the moral high ground to condemn it as a "bad thing".

What might help the debate of course is if some of them understood what it was.

I think we're pretty much all agreed that tax evasion (basically, lying outright to reduce your tax liabilities by hiding income for example) is naughty. It's an offence that you're likely to end up in court for and potentially get a custodial sentence.

Tax avoidance however, is much trickier to define. In its simplest form, it's doing something in a particular way so you pay less tax than you would have done if you had structured it differently. It is planning your tax affairs so more money ends up in your pocket and less in the taxman's. So why has it got such a bad name, given it seems to be just simple common sense? After all, none of us wants to pay more tax than we have to, do we?

The current journey for the Outrage Express seems to have started with the multinationals like Google, Amazon and Starbucks. As is common with the majority of companies, they want to get as much profit as possible so they can pay it to their shareholders. One way to do that is to base yourself somewhere that has a low rate of Corporation Tax. Less tax paid means more money to distribute to your investors.

However, if a company has a permanent establishment in the UK such as Starbucks does, then in short it pays tax in the UK on the profits it makes in the UK. Not a good thing, if the rates of tax here are higher than where your parent company is based. So many companies employ what is known as transfer pricing.

This is where one arm of the company (e.g. Starbucks UK) will buy goods or services from another arm elsewhere (say Starbucks US). The more Starbucks UK pays for these things it buys, the lower the profit it makes and the company it buys it from (usually in a territory with a lower tax rate) makes a higher profit but pays less tax on it.

Transfer pricing is not new. It's been around as long as there have been multinationals. It's also covered by a pretty complex set of rules, and HMRC have a dedicated unit set up to inspect and police transfer pricing transactions. As long as the price Starbucks UK is paying is reasonable however, there's sod all they can do about it. Starbucks UK reduces its profits and pays less UK tax, with that tax being paid elsewhere within the worldwide group instead.

It may not be "fair". It may well be avoidance, but under existing UK and international law it is not illegal.

Neither, for that matter, is going to live somewhere with a lower income tax rate than the UK so you pay less tax on your UK income. Countries have what are known as Double Taxation Agreements which determine who gets first crack at taxing what income, based on where you live. The principle is that nobody should be taxed twice on the same income in different countries, which I think we can all agree is a pretty fair system.

So there will be occasions where someone receives significant income from a UK company but because they are not living in the UK themselves they pay very little UK tax on it. That money will be taxed elsewhere. Again, this may not seem "fair". It may well be avoidance, but under existing UK and international law it is not illegal to arrange your affairs in such a way so you pay less tax.

"What about us poor saps that don't have the money to pay fancy accountants and avoid tax?", I hear you cry. "Why should the super-rich be the ones who get to benefit while we're getting screwed to the floor by HMRC?"

Well for a start, tax avoidance is not purely the playground of the super-rich. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Do you know someone who runs their business through a limited company, and pays themselves a small salary but then tops it up with dividends out of the profits? They're structuring their affairs in a way that minimises their tax liability. In the broadest definition of the term, they're avoiding tax. 

Ironically, I bet a large number of the MPs and journalists reminding us what a bad thing tax avoidance is have their freelance work go through a personal service company like this.

Do you put your savings in an ISA, rather than in an ordinary bank or building society savings account? You're structuring your affairs in a way that minimises your tax liability. In the broadest definition of the term, you are avoiding tax. 

Have you ever paid a tradesperson in cash, so they don't have to charge you VAT? By the broadest definition of the term, you're complicit in tax evasion - something the likes of Starbucks, Google and Amazon aren't even so low as to stoop to.

A lot is going to be said about tax avoidance over the coming months, much of it clouded in a fog of apoplexy and social responsibility. Before falling for it hook, line and sinking tax liabilities, it might be worth considering what the term actually means and who participates in it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

This Is A Party Satirical Broadcast

"Good evening, and welcome to this broadcast on behalf of the Open & Fair Fabulous Society party.

We here at O-FFS have noticed that there are a lot of angry people in Britain at the moment. Many of them seem to be angry about immigration. They believe the country is too full, that there are too many foreign people here and that the tolerant, pleasant British way of life is being eroded.

Frankly, we agree.

That is why O-FFS proposes a policy of enforced deportations. Hopefully, once we've sent these angry people somewhere that best suits their short tempers and bigoted ideas - like Islamic State, for example - the UK can get back to being a better place.

Then there's the economy. A lot of people seem to be upset that the money they pay in tax goes to help provide things for poor folks. So upset, in fact, that they have decided to avoid paying tax altogether just so they don't have to worry about it.

That is why O-FFS proposes that anyone caught avoiding tax have all their assets seized, be given a Santa outfit to wear and left homeless. It seemed to work out fine in the end for Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places, he even got to see Jamie Lee Curtis's tits.

Finally, we would like to address the issue of education. We believe, in the words of that wise educator and fabulous parent Miss Whitney Houston, that the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

That is why O-FFS proposes mandatory testing in basic English, Mathematics and cognitive reasoning skills be applied to all Secretaries of State for Education. Frankly, there are too many Ministers being left behind without the basic skills to function in society. Standards have even managed to decline further after Michael Gove's departure, which is something none of us thought possible.

So remember, Britain. When you set foot into that voting booth in May to choose your new government, scan down that list of names of the ballet paper and remember...

O-FFS."





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Brand Backlash (Or How I Learned Never To Criticise The Liberal Elite)

Earlier this week, a freelance IT contractor currently working at RBS published a tongue in cheek "open letter" to Russell Brand on their blog. The recurring comedic theme was that the closure of the building precipitated by Brand and his camera crew's unscheduled visit had resulted in his lunch going cold.

Within the blog, the writer points out that Brand's grandstanding and theatrics were unlikely to achieve anything as he didn't have an appointment, and therefore was never going to get into the building uninvited. It also accuses Brand of being confrontational both with building security and those stranded outside by his antics. It examines the taxpayer investment in the banks during the financial crisis. 

At no point does it attempt to defend RBS or any other bank. It makes clear that the writer is not an employee of RBS, right from the very outset, and that what follows is not intended to be any sort of statement from the bank itself, the banking industry or bankers.

On the whole, it's a pretty well-written, lighthearted piece. You can read it here:

http://blog.squandertwo.net/2014/12/an-open-letter-to-russell-brand.html

After it hit the internet, the blog went viral. Lots of people sharing it online, having a giggle at the concept and the content.

Well today came the backlash.

Driven on by some high-profile Guardianistas - for whom Brand seems to have acquired some sort of Messiah status of late - the writer has been attacked as variously a banker, an employee of RBS and a symptom of all that's wrong with Britain today, the rich complaining about being inconvenienced by those campaigning for social justice.

Accuracy seems to have taken a back seat to the need to protect Brand's reputation as some sort of crusader for the poor. This is a man whose appetite for equality has seemingly enjoyed some kind of Lazarusesque recovery, the kind of man who turns up to a masked protest and takes his mask off so the press can find - and of course, record for posterity - his presence.

He is, what we in sporting circles like to call, a bandwaggoner. The sort of person ripe for a bit of a satirical sideswipe. That his fans/acolytes feel so threatened at any criticism of him that they need to unleash their attack dogs on a blog is in equal part nauseating and bemusing. Whatever they expect to achieve as a result, it only leaves one set of people coming out of this looking like arrogant, petty little crybabies. Them.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Shades of Blue

When I was growing up and starting to become politically active, you had a choice. You could either vote Labour if you had a conscience, vote Conservative if you thought you were alright and didn't give a shit about anyone else, or vote Liberal if you wanted to waste your vote.

That was the way it was. The poor voted Labour, everyone else voted Conservative.

Then it all changed. The Conservatives imploded over just how shitty they could be to the plebs, and left the door open for one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

Blair was never your typical Labour politician. A middle-class kid, with a public school education and an Oxford graduate not shy of discussing his faith, Blair was parachuted into a safe seat in the former coalfield town of Sedgefield.

Under his leadership, Labour shifted away from the left of British politics towards the centre ground. He moved away from the traditional links with the unions, and targeted the middle-class with a social conscience who had become disaffected with the Tories.

Middle England became the battleground on which elections would be fought, and as a result the target audience the political parties needed to appeal to. With their own core support pretty secure in traditional areas and pretty much guaranteed to vote for them, parties could focus their policies on the middle classes.

So you get where we are today. Ed Miliband has announced the headlines of what will form Labour's 2015 election manifesto. In summary, it's pretty much the same as the Tories are doing at the moment, except slightly less of it and not as quickly.

More pay freezes. More cuts to public services. No plans to raise funds through taxing the super-rich. It's a blue budget, dressed up in a red overcoat. Her Majesty's Opposition are now so interchangeable with the government that you could swap them over and nobody would be able to tell the difference.

So there's your choice for 2015. You can have cuts, in some form or another, to public services. You can have more food banks. You can have more of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting screwed. If you're not middle-class, middle-income Middle England, neither the Tories nor Labour care about you. The LibDems are the equivalent of flushing your vote down the toilet, and don't even get me started on the bigotry that is UKIP.

You want my advice? If you're in Scotland, vote SNP. If you're in Wales, vote Plaid Cymru. The rest of you, vote Green. At least that way you'll get someone promoting a genuine alternative to the three shades of blue the major parties are offering.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Charity Begins With Whom?

Let me get this one out there from the start. I have no problem with charity. In its purest form, it's a noble, altruistic act of giving which improves the lives of others and the emotional well-being of those who provide it.

But - and let's face it, you knew there was going to be one.

It's charity season here in the UK. The annual "Children In Need" telethon has just raised £32m for worthy causes both in the UK and abroad. On top of that, another version of the Band Aid project has been wheeled out to raise funds for the Ebola relief effort in west Africa.

What do these things have in common? In short, they consist of very well off people trying to guilt the less well off into giving a percentage of their income, in many cases to fund projects and services that should be provided by governments or international non-governmental organisations anyway.

I'm sure there are celebrities and people in the public eye who donate cash and goods freely and willingly to charities anonymously, without wanting to appear to be taking credit or showing off. I'm sure they are out there, being genuinely altruistic.

However, I'm also willing to bet that a substantial number of those who get involved in exercises like Children In Need and Band Aid do so on the basis of donating absolutely nothing other than their time.

See, time is supposedly a valuable concept when it comes from celebrities. Because a minor celebrity gave up an afternoon of snorting coke off the penis of a shemale prostitute, you should feel morally and ethically obliged to buy a copy of a song you don't want. It'll make him or her feel better next time they dodge the odd million in tax with some phoney scheme or other.

Indeed, as Sir Bob of Geldof has been encouraging us to do, we should download multiple copies of the same song. Lots of them. Even though you can't stand it and would rather carve your own ears off with a spork than listen to it for the hundredth time. You should do this, because it's the "right" thing to do.

You shouldn't question that two of the driving forces behind Band Aid - Bob Geldof and Bono - are reported to have dodged millions of pounds in tax in their native Ireland with the use of aggressive avoidance schemes. Money that could either have been used to deliver much needed services domestically or as part of Ireland's overseas aid budget.

You shouldn't question that some singer takes the opportunity to boast about turning up to record a song for absolutely no fee every time they are interviewed on Sunday Brunch or Loose Women, clanging some enormous name drops into the process. They've given their "time" to charity, and you - and those Africans bleeding out of every orifice - should be bloody grateful and support them unstintingly.

In effect, these celebrities are chugging you through the medium of television and music. They're standing in front of you with a clipboard in the street and attempting to guilt trip you into signing up, while at the same time being happy to take their commission in screen time or kudos.

So the next time you see one of Little Mix, or some berk from TOWIE posing in front of a gaggle of starving orphans, pick up the phone and donate. But do it direct to the DEC Appeal, or Oxfam, or Shelter or one of the other dozens of well known charities that support needy causes across the world for the other 51 weeks a year when celebrities are off doing whatever it is their day job is.




Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Writer's Block

Writer's block
It's such a shock
To find that words have left you
No last bon mot
Before they go
Just off to somewhere new

Alas, alack
Must win them back
You strive all night and day
But without them here
To frame your thoughts
If you did, what would you say?

Plenty of fish
You tell yourself
Some other words will come
To fill the space
Those left behind
And be your lifelong chum

No verse
No rhyme, no dialogue
No ballad, prose or sonnet
Your mind
A shiny supercar
With nowt under the bonnet

A void
A space, an empty room
A great big yawning chasm
You look around
For answers, but
It seems nobody has 'em

So you sit
Reduced to shrugs
And plaintive facial expressions
Chalk one up
To writer's block
As it teaches you a lesson

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Black Dog

He followed me home again today
He's waiting at the gate
He knows I'll have to leave some time
He knows he holds my fate

I watch him, sitting, staring in
I hope he'll go away
I know he'll sit there waiting though
I've seen the ending to this play

We play these roles every day
We've both learned our part
We've got our lines, no need to learn
We know them off by heart

I tell him I don't need him here
He says he cannot leave
I tell him that I want him gone
He says I need him to breathe

So there he sits, faithful hound
Fangs nipping at my mind
Maybe one day my mood will change
And I'll leave him behind.

Until that time, he'll be right here
Claws stuck in my back
His shadow cast over my soul
That dog of darkest black