A flurry of snow triggered mass panic this morning. The fact that the December freeze was the worst for a century has not dispelled the paranoia and the chicken and ferret keepers alike see convinced that we will get another dose before the daffodils break surface. And you know what they say about being paranoid, it doesn’t follow that there isn’t something awful awaiting you. But for now a calm order has been restored and we were able to moan about something other than the Council’s invisible gritters. And what more topical subject could there be than VAT?
A couple of the gang once earned their crusts in accountancy and they are amazed that Osborne’s defence of the VAT hike has gone unchallenged. His case is that cash must be found to slash the deficit and no one is likely to dispute that. It is his argument that the only alternatives were National Insurance contributions or income tax rises. Rubbish is the view of my numerate pals. They contend that the chancellor is pandering to the powerful and by so doing has scored an own-goal. The VAT rise is unpopular and it will damage any green shoots of economic recovery. He is said to be cutting 500,000 jobs in the public sector, the VAT rise will make replacement posts in the private sector far less likely.
According to John and Alec the alternative was clearly to tackle the powerful, all the signs point to the coalition being scared of the big-spending lobbyists and particularly those in the financial sector. A couple of threatening speeches from Osborne and Cable were met with a barrage of threats about financiers heading for other countries and, hey presto, all is forgiven. The bonus tax levied by Alastair Darling was described at the time by most experts as too soft but compared with what is happening now Darling was the equivalent of Attilla the Hun.
Yesterday was a generally bad day for Mr Osborne. He returned from his widely criticised luxury Swiss ski break, which suggested limited self understanding, to find most of the national papers carrying adverts which portrayed him as ‘the Artful Dodger’, a campaign launched not by the Labour party but by the ’38 Degrees’ group which is non-political, already boasts 250,000 members, and alleges that the Chancellor’s family avoided £1.6 m.in tax Then he got himself into an awful knot in trying to explain why he believes that VAT is ‘progressive’ yet David Cameron sees it as ‘very regressive’.
Regressive indeed and the money that ministers are asking the public to raise could be raised in five minutes by calling the bluff of the richest section of the business community. So long as they shy away from this confrontation, and instead hammer the poorer sections of society, there will be widespread dissatisfaction. Few of us have the expertise of people like John and Alec but we know enough to realise that what is happening with banks is equivalent to pardoning the Great Train Robbers, letting them keep their loot, and applying a levy on everyone else to make up for the cash stolen.
The bankers have walked away from the debacle they caused scot free, with almost a trillion pounds of public money in their pockets. There was not so much as a compulsory lending ratio on their books. And the bankers rejoice. The big four are soon to reveal that some 200 in each of them earned over a million pounds last year. They have also rewarded themselves with personal bonuses of £7 billion over Christmas. That alone represented two fingers to the public and three times the money to be raise by the VAT rise.
There is no VAT or other transaction tax on banks. Money that properly belonged to share-holders and, in many cases, taxpayers , simply walked off the premises. It is as if a state-subsidised car manufacturer decided to allow its employees to take home half a dozen cars each Christmas!
Many of the cuts being applied by this government are justified for the waste of the previous regime was horrifying. Need an example? The multi-billion pounds NHS IT system that never worked will do to be going on with. But Osborne has fallen at an important fence. He needed to win over the public, to prove that we are truly all in this together. Visit any of the central London bars where the financial people gather and you will hear the popping of champagne corks.
They simply cannot believe that they have got away with it. And neither can the rest of us!
BUT IS AN AUSSIE THRASHING A GOOD THING?
England ended the day in a strong position at the Sydney Test. It is hard to know who to praise most in what has to be the fittest and most talented England team for many a year. The only slightly sad thing is that Paul Collingwood is nearing the end of his illustrious Test career, but there are a number of execellent young replacements waiting in the wings.
Australia seem to lack any back-up and, with the exception of the one brilliant spell by Mitchell Johnson, have looked a poor outfit. And that isn’t what devotees of Test cricket wanted to see. Yes, we longed for a winning series but we now worry about the effect of huiliation on Australian support through the turnstyles over the next few years. I worked in Australia and was surpirised to learn that not everyone down under is a cricket fan. Many are but I often sensed that the attraction was the regualar display of Aussie invincibility.
If the team continues for several years to look born losers will the support hold up? One prays so for already attendances at Test cricket in most of the other cricketing nations is falling away sharply. In India the crowds now turn out mainly for one-day cricket, Pakistan has real problems, West Indies have lost most of their support and even South Africa is seeing a swing to one-day.
The lifeblood of Test cricket has always been the Ashes but it is hard to see other than one-sided games for some time to come.
But our side can only play what is fielded against them and they have been magnificent.
SOCCER QUOTE OF THE DAY; Alex Fergusson was asked if given a gun with one bullet would he use it on Arsene Wenger or Victoria Beckham. He replied ” Could I not have two bullets?”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Airey Neave 2. 1971 (February)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the Nobel prize for peace in 1979 for her work in Calcutta? 2. Which country won 17 of 29 track and field gold medals at the 1972 Olympics?