Tag Archives: UK politics

Coming to terms

It’s been two weeks since we woke to a slim vote to leave the EU. Since then, having been a remainer, I’ve been through the shock, grief and anger stages. It affected me badly, and is still affecting Best Beloved.

I am still very angry. Angry at the mendacity chiefly from the leave side, angry at the ignorance, angry at what the result has unleashed, anger at those having perpetrated things then decided to just point the finger at everyone else and leave the stage. Anger, too, allied with frustration that the entire political class seems intent on in-fighting rather than sorting out the mess we find ourselves in.

Anger, though, doesn’t change much. We are where we are.

There’s a slim chance the whole thing can be kicked into the long grass. The vote was only advisory, has no bearing in law. The government would be stupid to ignore the vote, but the longer they take to enact Article 50—the official starting pistol for the true leave negotiations with the EU—the more likely it could be some kind of deal to remain properly in the EU would happen.

The thing is, despite petitions and marches, grumbling on social media, and the more traditional hurling obscenities at the television news bulletins, the only people who can do anything about anything are currently embroiled in leadership contests. Until that mud slinging stops, and of course the summer recess and conference season has passed, nothing will happen. We remain in limbo until at least October this year, as our world unravels.

It’s almost as if the politicians don’t care about what’s actually happening out here, in the real world. In their little Westminster bubble, they play their silly games as if it’s all that really matters. It is almost as if there is no constitutional crisis, no urgency to sort the mess out, nothing to worry about at all. Crisis? What crisis?

What we must do, those of us still angry about being told to stop grumbling because we “lost”, is hold our so-called leaders to account. If we have to leave the European Union, we must make damned sure we get the best possible deal, and we must fight tooth and nail to make certain those likely to be hardest hit by leaving will be given as much aid and support as they currently get from the EU.

There’s also the small matter of rebuilding our society. Fourteen days seems to have opened the cracks that many of us had thought filled and lost for several decades. All that has been undone must be done again.

It’s not going to be easy. We must each learn to direct our anger, to channel it to make sure that whatever happens we get to build a great future from the ruins of the past.

Oh, what have you done?

There are times in your life when something momentous or calamitous occurs. Think declaring war with Germany in 1939, the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela walking free—those kinds of things. We seem to be in one of those moments.

Perhaps, as a child playing rather too boisterously, you managed to damage or break something precious. There’s no way it could be mended, no matter how hard you screwed up your eyes and prayed that it might miraculously be put back together again. You have a certain feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach, that signifies there’s been a significant shift in circumstances, and not necessarily for the better. There’s no going back. That’s it, done and dusted.

That’s how I feel about the EU in or out referendum our benighted country held on 23 June 2016, a day that will go down in history as most definitely not one of Britain’s finest.

I voted to remain in the European Union. My reasons are not important right now, I just felt it was the least worst option. Taking a leap into the unknown, on the basis of blatant fabrications, falsehoods and downright lies, seemed a little, well, terminal. I believe it still to be better to try and fix things with a hand on the tiller, than be tied to the mast with no say in how the ship is run. If it doesn’t get better, then think about leaving some other time.

Inevitably, immigration came seething to the fore during the campaign, because the failure of western capitalism was all the fault of the foreigners, of course—even though it’s not and never has been. It dominated the discussion, even though it was plain there was no simple solution, and wouldn’t change much if we decided to leave anyway. Another fact that got swept away in the tide of xenophobia.

Although the result of the vote was close, it tipped to leaving. Just over half of those who bothered to vote decided we should take that leap into the unknown. As it turned out, the consequences have been exactly as predicted. Depending on who you believe, the economy is struggling, the pound is plummeting, the world’s stock markets have the jitters, Scotland wants out of the union, other EU member states are hoping they might be next to take the plunge and leave the gang, and we have no sensible government after the prime minister threw in the towel and the opposition decided to start a leadership battle. To cap it all, reports are that racist and xenophobic incidents have increased by over 50 per cent. It seems that some of those who wanted us “out” really wanted the “out” to mean everyone who wasn’t born here or was perceived as foreign purely by dint of their skin colour. Whether the Faragists expected this to happen, who knows? The fact is the dis-United Kingdom is now a grubbier, more violent and unhappy place than it was.

It’s not even been a week since the vote, and already it seems like the end of days! The worst is the feeling that there is no way out. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to run and hide. We are stuck in this chaotic farce that needn’t have happened, and we’ve broken the country irrevocably. We can’t screw up our eyes and try to will it all back together again.

I find it unbelievable that it has come to this. Did the Powers That Be not foresee this might be the outcome? Were they so cock sure the remain side would win they didn’t consider what might happen if that didn’t come to pass? Indeed, did the leave side really not have any form of plan of what to do in case they won?

Alas, so it seems. No-one expected to lose or win or split almost evenly down the middle, so we’re left with chaos and anarchy and no idea of what to do from anywhere. There’s no reset button.

Forget Article 50 being kicked into the long grass, Scottish Parliament vetoes, rerunning referendums. It’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. We have crossed the Rubicon. We are in uncharted waters, with no-one steering the boat.

Everything that I took more or less for granted in my world is suddenly inverted. It’s broken, shattered. There is no stability any more. Everything is twisted, torn and shredded. We are so screwed. Hate, it seems, is winning. I find I am swinging wildly between grief, dread and profound and deepening anger. One moment I’m laughing at the absurdity of it all, the next I’m in tears of sheer desperation.

How dare we be plunged into this chaos for no apparent good reason. Yet, life goes on. The sun still rises in the east; birds sing; we have to eat, shop, pretend our world is not imploding in some calm British sort of way. I don’t think I can cope with pretending it’s all normal much longer. It wasn’t my fault, but I’m tangled up in it, and it’s not fair!

So I say again: what have YOU done‽

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

Readers of a certain age will recall the title of this piece was a slogan coined by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for an advertising campaign some years ago. They were trying to explain that dealing with your tax affairs needn’t be a complex thing—and to an extent, over the past few years or so, this has proved to be the case.

I am self-employed. I’m a sole trader. I have been such on and off for the past 16 years or so. As one of this growing band of entrepreneurs I must fill out a self-assessment tax form each year. Should I be so lucky as to have had a good financial year and ticked over the minimum income tax threshold, then I dutifully cough up what I owe—as well as half of what HMRC think I might owe next year. Don’t ask.

Anyway, the current bunch of cretins in charge of this fair country decided it would be a spiffing wheeze if we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types should perform the annual tax return ritual four times a year. You can type the words “tax returns four times a year” into your preferred search engine to find any number of stories about it. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types were a little upset by the notion, and an online petition was started. Of course I signed it.

Anyway, this last week the signatories received the following email from the Powers That Be:

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Scrap plans forcing self employed & small business to do 4 tax returns yearly”.

Government responded:

Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.

These reforms will not mean that businesses have to provide the equivalent of four tax returns every year. Updating HMRC through software or apps will deliver a light-touch process, much less burdensome and time-consuming than it is today.

At the March 2015 Budget the government committed to transform the tax system by introducing simple, secure and personalised digital tax accounts, removing the need for annual tax returns.

At the 2015 Spending Review the government announced it would invest £1.3bn in HMRC to make this vision a reality, transforming HMRC into one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

One element of this vision will be asking most businesses, self-employed people and landlords to keep track of their tax affairs digitally and update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account.

Many taxpayers have told HMRC that they want more certainty over their tax bill, and don’t want to wait until the end of the year, or even longer, before knowing where they stand with their taxes.

We also estimate that £6.5bn in tax goes unpaid every year because of mistakes made when filling in tax returns. These reforms will make it easier for taxpayers to maintain accurate and up-to-date tax affairs, reducing the scope for error.

With businesses keeping track of their tax affairs digitally, quarterly updates will be fundamentally different from filling out an annual tax return in a number of crucial respects:

  • Quarterly updates will not involve all the complexity of a full tax return. The updates will be generated from existing digital business records. In most cases, little or no further entry of information will be needed. It will be much quicker to complete than the current tax return.
  • As part of the process the business owner or individual will receive a developing in-year picture of their tax position, helping people have greater certainty about what they owe, allowing them to plan their finances more effectively. This differs from the current system where many taxpayers are caught out by their tax bill when it finally arrives.
  • In-year updates will not be subject to the same sanctions for lateness or inaccuracies as apply now to the year-end position. HMRC will consult during 2016 on what sanctions might be appropriate for a more digital tax administration.

The government has already announced that these measures will not apply to individuals in employment or pensioners, unless they have secondary incomes of more than £10,000 per year from self-employment or property.

The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.

HMRC will ensure support is available for people to get online if they need it. We will also provide alternatives for those who genuinely cannot use digital tools, like telephone filing. This will build on our Needs Extra Support service, which has gone from strength to strength in helping more vulnerable customers.

We’re introducing these reforms gradually. We’ve been in discussion with stakeholders since March 2015 and will be consulting on the details of the proposals throughout 2016.

We will use volunteers to test the new tools and processes and give us feedback. Quarterly updates will be introduced for some from 2018, and will be phased in fully by 2020, giving taxpayers time to adapt.

We want to work with all stakeholders to ensure these changes work for them. For more information about the proposed reforms please search for ‘Making Tax Digital’ on Gov.UK or use the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/making-tax-digital

HMRC

That’s a lot of words effectively saying “stop your whinging and just get on with it”.

In case you glazed over, the important bit—for me at least—was this: “Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.“.

Oh, okay. So what they’re saying is I will have to actually start keeping proper accounts with proper software, rather than maintaining a simple spreadsheet and a box full of receipts which has hitherto been quite adequate. Am I expected to spend money on this software?

“The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.”

Fair enough, I suppose. However, this still expects me to sit down every bloody quarter and punch in some figures to an online account of my taxes. Just so you know, I haven’t managed earned enough to pay income tax for several years. I don’t find an annual return at all burdensome, and doesn’t actually take me more than a couple of hours with my accountant and about 20 minutes online to complete.

Incidentally, who are these “stakeholders” that have been consulted? I’ve not been asked my opinion on this.

Rather than cutting red tape and the burden of the state, this government seems intent on doing exactly the opposite. (Surprise!) Far from a “light touch” I think it’s going to cause more annoyance than anything else. I’ve got better things to be doing than submitting quarterly updates on my lack of tax-earning ability. Why the hell would I want to keep up with my tax affairs like that anyway?

I guess it’s going to happen whatever we do. My ranting about it isn’t going to change it, so in five years I shall be grumbling about it again as the free software fails to connect to my digital tax account for the umpteenth time because I haven’t updated it or because I’ve had to dig out an old PC to run it because Mac OS or iOS aren’t supported. My guess is it’ll be like every other government IT scheme. It’ll crash and burn, and cost billions to implement, saving nothing in the long run.

This rant is brought to you by HMRC’s web site’s failure to recognise Best Beloved’s online account this year, requiring a postal password reset because he doesn’t have a registered email address with the system. It bodes well, doesn’t it?

Nationalism: Nasty or Nice?

I’ve been mulling this post over for some time. I’ve been editing and re-editing, trying to put over what I have in my head. I may upset some readers. If that is the case, so be it. Sometimes, you have to say what you have to say.

It can’t have escaped attention—here in the UK, particularly—that a certain nationalist political party is beginning to make some headway in gaining parliamentary seats.

Let’s leave to one side the fact that both of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s seats have been gained by the sitting Conservative MP defecting to them, forcing a by-election, and being re-elected. Let’s also leave to one side the mainstream media’s fawning obsession with UKIP, because the blame for the party’s rise can be laid squarely at their feet, in my opinion.

A general disquiet and discontent about our elected representatives has been brewing since the global financial collapse of 2008, and the Westminster expenses scandal of 2010. I’m surprised it took so long, but the population in general has slowly woken up to the fact that MPs are out of touch with the real world, the world in which the rest of us live and work. While it’s always been an undercurrent—probably always has been, and probably always will be—the rise of UKIP has been mirroring a general feeling that someone or something else is to blame for all our ills.

UKIP began as a one trick party, its sole reason for existence was to push for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. It gained some Euro MPs, a few English councillors, but never made much headway in parliamentary elections. Now it’s making a lot of noise, and has somehow transmogrified into a more acceptable version of the British National Party and English Defence League.

Instead of blaming the finance industry, which was truly the chief architect of our current financial woes, and which seems not to have learned from its mistakes at all, far more base instincts are being called upon. Immigrants, foreigners, the “others”—they are the ones we should, apparently be blaming for everything that’s wrong with our world.

There is now a lot of hand-wringing in Westminster, and the main parties have all lurched further to the right wing. They’ve done this in some mistaken belief they must be seen to be doing something about the root of all our ills. We are now in danger of losing sight of reality, as those who harbour frankly outright fascist views on anyone who isn’t “indigenous British” suddenly find they are being listened to by the Westminster elite.

The joke is UKIP is being put forward as a party that is different to the old guard. The fact that is it anything but seems to be completely ignored. The established parties, scared that their relevance is beginning to wane, are scrambling to out-UKIP UKIP, and anyone who has a clear head can only shake it in despair.

Who speaks for me? Who speaks for what may well be the vast majority of the population of this country? Right now, no-one. I would like to believe that a majority of the population in this country are like me. I don’t care about immigration, never have. I don’t think the EU is a monster we have to escape from. I think we have a moral duty to look after the disabled, the sick, the elderly, and I think we should encourage those who can afford it to pay more tax so we can rebuild the society our grandparents and great-grandparents forged after the Second World War.

Instead, we seem to be slipping back to the 1930s or earlier. Those who lurked in the shadows now feel they can come out and spout their hideous views without sanction. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Nigel Farage, UKIP’s main spokeshole and leader, grinning out.

Tied to the renewed vigour of blatant racism seems to be a growth in the veneration of national symbols—not just flags, but also things like the poppy. Every November we are encouraged to support the Poppy Appeal, and to observe the act of remembrance, respecting the dead of many conflicts since the armistice of 1918. Somehow, since western powers bombed and invaded numerous Middle Eastern countries on some spurious pretext of fighting “wars on terror”, this annual act of remembrance has been co-opted into some quasi-religious festival of honour. To be seen in public without wearing a poppy is seen as something sacrilegious. Those who might prefer not to buy into poppy worship are vilified, while politicians and public figures try to out-poppy each other to show how well they remember the fallen. It’s become a paper flower circus.

The same thing is happening with the English flag—the red cross on a white background, the cross of St George. We have become accustomed to seeing these flags sprouting on cars, vans and houses during sporting events where the national teams are playing. You can probably picture the kind of person who happily proclaims their nationality by such displays. These are the same kind of person which support the likes of the English Defence League, the British National Party, Britain First, and UKIP.

I can’t help thinking these nationalistic attitudes can only lead us backwards, not forwards. As a nation, we seem to want to draw into ourselves, pull up the drawbridge and to hell with anything “other”. We want to blame everyone else for our problems.

I am happy to be proud of my country. I am British first, English second, and a European third. One of my grandfathers was from the Republic of Ireland, an immigrant who came to the UK to work and make a better life for himself. It seems likely that the other side of my family may have arrived from France several hundred years ago. I have no issue with people of other nationalities arriving here to do the same. I am proud of what my country has done, what its inventors, scientists and artists have created. There is nothing wrong with pride in where you live.

When you stop being parochial, you realise we all, whatever our colour or creed, live on a small rock, orbiting an unremarkable star. I wish we could all just get over our petty obsessions with race, colour, religion, borders and lusting after natural resources and just live happily together. Regrettably, it seems it will be some time yet before human beings learn to do that, if we ever do.

Braying scum | It’s not the despair

This is our parliament. These are the people we have elected to serve our interests, and they spend their lives wasting that opportunity by bellowing, growling and making animal noises at each other. They shout, they interrupt, they refuse to shut up, they act like a pack of chimps. No, not like a pack of chimps. More unruly, more vile, more deliberate, more malicious, more unpleasant. It’s an insult to animals to compare these people to animals.

via Braying scum | It’s not the despair.

I couldn’t put it better. Remember, these people work for us.

(In case you missed it, this is about the behaviour of MPs in the House of Commons today.)