Clegg’s Emergency ‘999’ Call To The Tax-Starved Rich

Nick Clegg In usual Gobble-dee-gook mode

With the party political conference season almost upon us it’s bemusing to watch the ineffective jousting of the tories by Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg.  Deeply wounded by a torrid introduction to office he continues to lurch from one self-generated crisis to the next.

Clegg’s call for an emergency tax on the rich is a little late in the day given recent government history on the topic and will only serve to raise mild amusement and a few eyebrows within Conservative ranks as well as doubts about his floundering leadership in his own.

Were an emergency tax-raising plan for our flagging economy deemed necessary I’d have anticipated something a little more creative and persuasive from the Deputy Prime Minister.  Instead we are presented with a proposal in which Clegg effectively wants to re-introduce a previous increase that was mainly reversed at the last budget – a reversal that he supported.

I also doubt if an intervention is justified at this time.  But then I have never before encountered such a shambolic government as this and following the tax debacle at the last  budget nothing any cabinet minister says about this subject should greatly surprise me.

Sadly, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I continue to expect better from government than what is being offered by this one.  Will I ever learn…

There are sound arguments suggesting that with an increasingly vulnerable and unpredictable situation developing within the eurozone we should refrain from increasing taxes of this nature and keep our powder dry until we need to rely on the muscle such interventions can provide.  However, in the event such an increase was to become justified, I think I’d temporarily increase corporation tax rather than income tax.

The banks have refused to lend to businesses who need the money to invest and expand. With uncertainty and fear a plenty, many have instead banked their profits; strengthened their accounts; reduced overheads and come out the other side more confident and secure than perhaps they had expected.

So bank balances are strong even though usual levels of output and expansion may have flat-lined or become reduced. The recent anomaly in a weakening economy but rising employment may in part be explained by this phenomenon. Some businesses may be taking on a few more employees – trainees for when they are ready to invest or expand again.

Many businesses are in a better position to pay an emergency tax than many others in society and if they aren’t investing or expanding then they aren’t contributing to the resolution of our faltering economic revival. The government needs to persuade them to do so.

Combined with a concerted effort by government to force the banks to lend – not the empty rhetoric and inertia characterized by them at present – we should begin to see the stimulus needed to alleviate our situation and give the economy a much needed kick-start.

Whatever the real solution to our present predicament, there can no longer be any no-go areas for government in the face of this particularly problematic debt and deficit crisis.  I would however qualify this by insisting that essential and compassionate provision for the ill, vulnerable, elderly and poor remains in place and an absolute priority.

Business owners are unlikely to go to the extreme of withdrawing their trade from the UK to move abroad if a rise in corporation tax is seen to be fair and temporary.   A small increase  may also go some way to silence those who argue that a rise in income tax upon the rich is counterproductive and won’t generate the revenue most of us would expect it to. 

Were their argument to hold up to scrutiny, it perhaps demonstrates that in taxation, as in life, what one expects can quite unexpectedly collide rather clumsily and uncompromisingly with reality. Nick Clegg’s unflattering spell in government is at least testimony to that.


The Fool On The Hill

Were the SDLP’s Alex Attwood genuine in his concern about the environmental impact of single-use shopping bags, he’d set about outlawing their use completely rather than cynically placing a levy on already hard-pressed shoppers from next April.

It’s quite tough enough out there for people  who are up to their eyes in an economic crisis and enduring high food costs; ever increasing utility and energy bills; pay freezes and cuts; frozen and cut benefits and generally struggling to keep their head above water without paying his petty, daft tax. End of.

A lifetime of terrorism.

The reality of terrorism has been a permanent feature of my life since I can remember.  I vividly recall being dragged from my bed one night as a 4 year old by my mother.  I could hear shouting from outside. My mother sounded nervous and worried and as a result I quickly became terrified.

Terrorists had planted a huge car bomb in the street next to ours and the entire estate was evacuated.  People spent most of the rest of that night in a field while the army defused the device.

We moved from that house several years later to live in a smaller, religiously mixed, private housing estate just opposite Belfast zoo.

I had a normal and happy childhood here and made good friends.  But outside this bubble it was chaos.

I would wait at the same bus stop on the Antrim Road each morning for the bus to take me to school.

During the hunger strikes I knew to take 4 steps backwards when the bus destined for the Christian Brothers school stopped to take passengers on board.

The school pupils would slide open the top windows of the bus and take their best shot. A machine-gun burst of saliva ensued, peppering the ground in front of me.

I was a protestant kid wearing a State school uniform and that made me a target;  I was on the wrong side of their argument.

Let them get on with it, I thought at the time.  I don’t have a problem with any of them.  As days turned into weeks, and without any reaction from me, they stopped.

Behind this bus stop stands a large Victorian-style house.  While I was growing up it belonged to the zoo’s head-gardener.

He was a very friendly man and often allowed me and my friends to cross his driveway to scale a wall and into the zoo without paying.

On one of these occasions I noticed him playing with his young son who was probably about 3 or 4 at the time.

His son was laughing hysterically while chasing his father round the family car with a soapy sponge.

I seem to recall that the boy had incredible blonde hair.  It was a happy scene on a perfect summer’s day.

One morning, several years later, a man dressed as a postman walked up the driveway of that house and knocked on the door.

The boy’s father answered and as he did so the postman reached into his satchel and pulled out a handgun.  He fired one shot into the man’s chest, mortally wounding him.

As the man fell to the floor the gunman reached inside the house and fired several more shots into his body.

I recall every detail of that morning to this day.  I remember what I was eating at the table when I heard the gun going off. I recall the school uniform I was wearing.  If I think for long enough I can hear those shots ringing out.   I recall telling my mother, who was sitting opposite me, that what we heard sounded like gunfire. I remember feeling shocked and completely numbed by the murder.

Each morning that I sat on the low rise wall at the bus stop following the incident, I felt the looming presence of the house behind me and the horror that had occurred there.

Most of all I remember being haunted by the thought of a young, blonde-haired boy standing over the carnage of his father’s body.

What I hadn’t known was that the man was a part-time soldier in the army.   Those that murdered him cared only for that fact about him.

At around the same time a neighbourhood police officer I knew was gunned down in a street less than a mile from my home.

It was reported that he wrestled one of the gunmen to the ground.  It was an instinctive but futile attempt to resist the inevitable; his assailants were up to 4 strong.  As they made their way to their getaway car, they let off a volley of shots into the air in celebration – like cowboys in a Western.

The officer was popular and affable and it was reported that this was the reason he was targeted.  To the mind of the terrorist a nice, friendly police officer didn’t quite fit the narrative of an oppressive British state and therefore he had to go.

In more recent times, a young man became a victim of loyalist terrorists not far from where I lived on the Whitewell Road.

His crime?

He had been wearing a Celtic football top.  In doing so his assailants identified him as their enemy, worthy of assassination.

Just imagine that.  It’s barely possible to come to terms with the type of mentality that it takes to make a murder like that a reality.

Fresh flowers are placed weekly at the spot where he fell, a permanent reminder by those who loved him that they’ll never forget him. The flowers also serve to remind those of us who live here of the sobering relationship between normality and conflict and sadly how closely the 2 have merged in Northern Ireland.


No matter where in the world it has ever occurred it goes on to this day.  The greatest act of selfishness perpetrated by one human being upon another.

You don’t see things my way, I can’t tolerate you, you’re to blame for how I am feeling so you must die.

That is the dogmatic, selfish language of the terrorist. 

So, today, we commemorate the tenth anniversary of one particularly gross act of terrorism –  the September 11 atrocity on New York City.

We remember those many good people cut down in the prime of life for no other reason than to satisfy the vanity and will of those terrorists who follow a perverse and intolerable interpretation of religion.

I have great respect for America and her people.  I was horrified and disgusted at what was inflicted upon them that day.

Yet, during one of their darkest hours, I watched on TV as ordinary citizens of the US performed acts of heroism, sacrifice and compassion.

Their efforts humbled me and reminded me that terrorists will never, ever win.

So, as I remember the events of 10 years ago I also remember all that has come to pass in my life and those I have lived amongst.

I look back on acts of terrorism perpetrated on my fellow countrymen, and those throughout the world, and feel traumatised to the core for them and because of them.

Life is tough enough without terrorism.  But it is my conviction, born from my experiences and knowledge of Northern Ireland, that ultimately it is destined to fail.  It is those who hold true to love and democracy, not terrorism, who’s destiny is secured.


Try Or Die?


So, just how can an abstention or a ‘no’ vote on UN Resolution 1973 on Libya, either in the UN or our own Parliament, be defended or justified in any way whatsoever when the certain outcome of a ‘no’ result at the UN would have subjected thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of men, women and children to a mass slaughter beyond our comprehension?

I don’t understand how you can sit on the fence over an issue like this. It’s either right to attempt to save the lives of those who can’t defend themselves or it isn’t; there can be no in-between.

So which is it?

We can procrastinate and prevaricate and torture ourselves relentlessly and needlessly over the technicalities of a whole host of potential outcomes; but in truth it all comes down to a stark and arguably painful choice:

Do we stand up, be counted, and attempt to defend these
people and do so in spite of the very grave concerns that each and every one of us harbours about the risks involved, including the unknown, potentially catastrophic consequences?

Or….do we wash our hands of them and let them die?

Pretty Things

Had my instincts of self-preservation compelled me to do so, I’d have looked up the advice pages on wordpress and somewhere there discovered guidance on those topics that single, white, middle-aged men should on no account commit to blogging about.

At the very top of that list of pages my eyes may have fallen upon a solitary entry listed, “WOMEN”.

I am, however, perilously lacking in this respect and I’m not likely to ignore a week of news dominated at every turn by women.

The week started as the previous one had ended. Sky sports presenter’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys were making the headlines following their sexist comments against female assistant referee, Sian Massey. By Wednesday they were gone; Gray having been sacked the day before followed by Keys who resigned.

The two men had served at the helm of Sky’s premier league football commentary team since its inception 19 years ago. But they failed to acknowledge that in that time the country had moved on. Certain types of behaviour would no longer be tolerated. Revelations and accusations regarding the pair now seep daily from every pore of the media. It makes for painful reading with a capital Ouch.

Sky’s priority now is to rebuild the trust between it and its fee-paying audience, so perhaps they’ll plump for an anchorwoman to replace Keys. Top of any list must surely be the BBC sports presenter, Gabby Logan. Gabby is the daughter of former Leeds United midfield ace, Terry Yorath, and is as talented and knowledgeable about the game as they come.

Much further afield, In Egypt, pretty things have not been happening to the women there for a very long time. They have had it tough. Very tough. Last year, The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) published a report stating that the country ranked 125th out of 134 in a league of countries in relation to women’s rights.

The report, based on findings of International human rights organisations, found that of all violent crime recorded in Egypt last year, an astonishing 71.4% was perpetrated against women. 27 incidents of rape were recorded daily, though this was dwarfed by a separate report which claimed that 95% of rapes in the country go unreported.

Domestic violence in Egypt affects a startling 33% of the female population. The public groping of women is reported to be common in some parts of the country as is their sexual violation by police officers.

So it is not surprising then that in this context the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities have been thronged with women protesting in favour of change. “Dirty government”, they complain, as they rein bottles down upon police officers from the balconies of their homes. Egypt is experiencing revolution and women are in the vanguard of its momentum.

Meanwhile, in Washington, I watched as the most powerful woman on the planet, Hilary Clinton, went live on TV and issued a warning to the Egyptian government that it should not use repressive measures to quell the popular uprising in the country. The inference was clear, the message emphatic.

Closer to home, Conservative MP, Dominic Raab, was creating mischief. He had an article published on the Politics Home website, also covered in detail by the Daily Mail, entitled, “We Must End Feminist Bigotry”. The 37 year old member for Esher and Walton complained that men were getting a “raw deal” given recent, anti-discrimination laws that were designed to favour women.

Of his many complaints, his determination that, “divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts”, stood out for me. I am a single father who has been fortunate in that I have not had to go to court to gain access to my son; but I’m conscious that many fathers aren’t so fortunate, and many fail to succeed when they get there. The law’s interpretation of access rights for fathers is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Though, I’d much rather Dominic Raab hadn’t attempted to tackle issues that genuinely affect and concern men by attacking women and systematically promoting the idea that they have legal privileges exclusive to their gender. In doing so, his article fundamentally undermined his argument.

On Thursday, I was watching on TV as Theresa May listened thoughtfully to Dominic Raab as he delivered his second whine of the week about the topic; this time in the Commons.

“Labelling females as obnoxious bigots is not the way forward”, she retorted. The chastened Raab squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and feigned amusement, but the damage was done; the home secretary’s rebuke was cutting.

When he arrived home that evening, I can’t help but wonder if Dominic Raab made his way upstairs for a private moment alone in order to tentatively determine if all his particulars remained intact.

Last week saw Yvette Cooper, Labour’s newly appointed shadow home secretary, up against Theresa May; following the formers recent appointment. The shadow home secretary tore into the minister over plans to modify the time terrorist suspects may be held in custody without charge and questioned the home secretary’s administration of the process.

The ever impressive Cooper was, for once, outflanked by an increasingly confident Teresa May who clearly believes she has the measure of her latest, opposite number.

The articulate and passionate Cooper is the master of detail, has great resolve and is passionate in her delivery. May, in contrast, is calm, astute and seemingly a good reader of her adversary. I suspect there is, or will soon be, poor chemistry developing between the two. There may be trouble ahead and I intend to reserve an exclusive, front row seat.

It was declared last week that Stella Creasy, the Labour and Co-Operative MP for Walthamstow Forest, is to become Labour’s next prime minister. This is according to John Rentoul, the Independent on Sunday’s chief political commentator. “She comes across well and looks like a tory”, he said.

Passionate about her constituency and those whom she serves, she can be found on twitter providing regular updates of her busy, daily schedule.

Despite the entire London Transport system being at her disposal as well as the most technologically advanced mobile phone, computer device and software, none of these can quite keep up with the breakneck speed with which Stella Creasy tends to the challenge of moving seamlessly from one set of constituency appointments to the next. Her twitter feed would suggest that Apple, and the London underground network in particular, need to significantly up their game.

Whether Dr Creasy, a psychology graduate from LSE, is a prime minister in waiting is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think John Rentoul was having a slow news day and allowed his mind to wander during a slack schedule. He certainly did her no favours by describing her as someone who looks like a tory. What exactly does a tory look like, anyway?

All the same, I wouldn’t dare underestimate the Walthamstow MP. She appears to be making an impact in the Commons where she has introduced a Bill to combat the scourge of legal loan sharking. She has proved adroit at mobilising all parties to participate in the issues concerned with the Bill and appears to be making headway.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband didn’t get a mention from John Rentoul.

Finally, on Saturday morning, I almost choked on my Mornflake oats when I opened up my twitter feed to discover Dawn Purvis tweeting live…from Iraq. The independent MLA, the only remotely interesting politician in Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly, was attending a conference on the role of women in peace-building, reconciliation and accountability. Should this have surprised me? Probably not, but it did.

Sometimes in life you are given little warning signs that signal the likely occurrence of greater events to come. You can either dismiss this seemingly insignificant nuance or embrace it for what it represents. Last week just may be a signal that we’re soon to enter a phase in politics when women will dominate, impose themselves and make a significant contribution to all our futures.

This post is testimony to that theory and to claim my stake that we are soon to witness its dawn.