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Monday 31 March 2014

The Devil Makes Work For Idle Hands:

And for incredibly stupid people too, it appears! Following on from the recent announcement that our parliamentarians are considering awarding themselves an extra week off work, as a result of not having enough legislative business to occupy them for the entire parliamentary term, it seems that one or two of our democratic representatives are now busily thinking up new ways of interfering in people's lives, in terms of their individual childcare skills and how they manage their personal health. If you thought that our lives were already being blighted by lots and lots of highly intrusive and generally unnecessary social conventions wrapped up in the law, then stand by, because it's only likely to get much, much worse in the future!
Stupid idea number one, which the coalition are said to be seriously considering is a so-called "Cinderella" law that will make it a criminal offence for any parent to be emotionally cruel to their offspring, although defining what might be construed as 'emotionally cruelty' has yet to be fully explained by the proponents of the new law. In essence however, it seems that the new bill would seek to strengthen existing neglect laws that are thought to have been in place for well over a hundred years; and are regarded as being wholly out of date. Under the provisions of the proposed new act, it has been suggested that police and social services would be able to charge parents with isolating, belittling, rejecting or corrupting their children, or encouraging them into committing criminal or anti-social activities.
A number of leading children's charities have welcomed the proposals, as has the like of MP Robert Buckland, who has described the proposed changes as a monumental leap forward for thousands of children in the UK, a view that is also shared by Liberal Democrat MP, Mark Williams, another avid supporter of additional childcare protections.
Now obviously any new rules and regulations, which are specifically designed to protect our children, the youngest and most susceptible citizens within our society, are to be welcomed. However, as with any new legislative measures the devil is often in the detail; and it would be easy to see a situation arising where spurious and malicious charges are brought against entirely innocent parents by a variety of accusers with their own personal agendas, or their own malign intent. After all, what constitutes "isolating", "belittling", or "rejecting" a child in terms of the law; and who would be responsible for determining whether or not such a charge were brought in the first place, a neighbour, a relative, a social worker, a police officer, or a judge? And on what basis would such a accusation be made, where a child has been "grounded" for bad behaviour, where a child has been called a name by a parent, or when a parent chooses to ignore the vocal pestering of a spoilt child? Just who decides what constitutes "neglect" and how on earth do you prevent malevolent reporting by someone with an axe to grind against an individual parent. Along with the Tax Man, social workers in the UK are probably some of the most heavily armed public sector workers in the world, in terms of regulatory powers; and yet under these new proposals the government would willingly offer them additional grounds and means to interfere with parent's rights over their own children. History suggests that parliamentarians are notoriously bad at drafting new laws that people are expected to live by; and there is no reason to suppose that they will be any better with regard to this particular issue.
The second stupid idea of the day has been put forward by Lord Warner, a former Labour Health Minister, whose suggestions have been endorsed by the right-wing think tank "Reform". Lord Warner's basic proposal, of charging every citizen a £10 monthly health tax, paid either locally or nationally, would help plug the financial shortfall in the UK's public health system, the NHS, which most people now recognise is a growing problem for the country. In addition to the monthly health tax, the Labour peer has also suggested that certain patients should be asked to contribute to their costs of staying in hospital, a so-called "hotel" tax that would help offset the cost of a patient's "bed and board", while they were undergoing some forms of, as yet to be disclosed, treatments.
Of course, even though Lord Warner's proposals were immediately dismissed by both the coalition government and the Labour party, who both professed their preference for the existing health service model, which is paid primarily through Direct Taxation and people's National Insurance Contributions, some commentators believe that Lord Warner's proposal marks a statement of intent for future governments; and that his report is simply a testing of the public waters for future changes to the UK Health Service. As it is, with up to an estimated £5 billion a year being lost to fraud in the NHS; and with billions more being taken out of the health service by private "for profit" healthcare companies, it is perhaps little wonder that the NHS is struggling to cope at the present moment in time. Any commercial business that sees its most profitable customers taken away, who are cherry-picked by the competition; will almost inevitably be left with the most expensive and least profitable ones, who will eventually drive the company into the ground, which is exactly what appears to have been happening to the NHS over the past few years, under both Labour and the Coalition governments.
It is a grave mistake for any of us to believe that our elected representatives represent the brightest and the best of our society, as they clearly do not; and as has been said before, it is often a fact that a significant number of our sitting MP's are only in the House of Commons because they have failed to make the grade in their previous careers, or didn't even try and find a proper job to begin with. If the Devil does indeed make work for idle hands, then Old Nick is likely to be fully employed finding work for the 650 idlers who presently occupy the comfy benches in the Palace of Westminster, a bigger bunch of indigent loafers he would be hard pressed to find. 

Saturday 29 March 2014

It Being Legal, Doesn't Make It Less Strange:

At the stroke of midnight last night in the UK, our laws were irrevocably changed forever, as "same sex" marriages became a legal entity in their own right, marking an end to a change in the law, which may or may not put an end to the premiership of David Cameron, who felt so passionately about the issue that he didn't even think to mention it as part of the Conservative Party's election manifesto in 2010.
As a result of the legal change we've had a full day of television pictures, radio broadcasts and newspaper headlines, complete with lots of celebrating couples, who are keen to tell the world just how much it means to them; and the difference it will make to their lives, as a happily married couple. Will it really? Hmm? Not so sure about that?
What is particularly striking about this whole gay marriage debate, are the extreme responses that have emanated from a subject that the vast majority of people in this country don't really know enough about, or even actually care about. Woohoo! Two guys want to get married, so what? Yippee! Two women want to live together as man and wife, yeah and? Just who really cares what members of a minority grouping want to do with their lives; and is it really worth all the time, trouble and upset that it's caused? Is it really worth all the newspaper headlines, just because Jane wants a piece of paper that says that Joanne is her spouse, that tells their family and friends, the local hospital, or the local council that one of them is their next of kin?
Judging by the amount of news coverage devoted to the subject today, one could be forgiven for thinking that marriage itself had been invented for the first time, rather than it having been amended to allow a small but vociferous minority community to pretend that society now regards them in exactly the same way as a traditional married couple, as in a man and a woman, because despite what the law says, in terms of our wider society absolutely nothing has changed since yesterday, when same marriages were not enshrined in law. Having that bit of paper, or the law courts saying that they're legally married, or even our parliament having passed a statute to guarantee to their mutually shared rights, will not make a damned bit of difference to how people choose to regard a gay couple, newly married or not, because you cannot legislate for an individual person's views on the matter.
Considering the amount of fuss that the LGBT community have caused over the past decade or so, it would be easy to imagine that heterosexuals were fast becoming an endangered breed within our society, simply because you rarely hear them whingeing on about their rights, or the level of discrimination they suffer. But surprisingly enough, the heterosexual Brit is still alive and well apparently and still making up around anything between 95-97% of the adult population, which might come as a bit of a shock to members of the LGBT community who clearly believe that they're the only community that matters, when it comes to legal rights over their general treatment, adoption rights, or even their actual marital status.
It's interesting to note that out of four significant studies undertaken on people's sexuality in the UK, on average anything between 1-3% of those polled have identified themselves as being either gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual, which gives a ballpark figure of around one million people, from returns gleaned from the last census in 2011. Although other surveys have shown moderately higher rates of LGBT identification by individual respondents when they've been polled, these averages do tend to be mirrored in other such surveys that have been carried in other westernised countries. In the case of the 2011 survey, when asked, around 1.1% of respondents described themselves as being either gay or lesbian, which equated to around 545,000 people, whilst a further 0.4% identified themselves as bi-sexual, 0.3% as "other"; and 3.6% didn't know, or refused to identify themselves to the pollster. And before anyone might try and claim that the 3.6% of people who refused to disclose their sexuality were most probably reluctant to disclose their preferences for fear of being "outed" in front of their family and friends, in any legitimate poll only a representative percentage of the group would be used to calculate their preference (in this case 1.1% of the missing 3.6% for gays or lesbians), so the approximate calculation of one million people being in the LGBT community would still hold true. Whilst admitting that one million people or thereabouts is not an inconsiderable number, it has to be seen in the wider context of 55 million adults in the UK, several million trade union members, over a million NHS workers, or even the million plus people who rallied in London to oppose the invasion of Iraq.
Were a million strong group of workers, or loudly protesting citizens to attempt to influence government, let alone change the laws of the land, or force change on our historic religious institutions, then in all likelihood they would either be ignored, or would incur the general wrath of the wider population. Neither of things have happened as regards the campaigns that have been fought by Britain's LGBT movement, which makes one wonder why? Is it perhaps because a number of our democratically elected representatives are themselves openly gay and they have helped facilitate access to ministers and government circles? Is it perhaps because as with everything else that the general public have become more ambivalent about the sorts of changes that successive governments have introduced with regard to people's individual sexuality? Is it because, as with racism, homophobia, islamphobia and all of the other "isms" and "phobias" that are deemed to be bad for our society, statutes have been enacted and applied to enforce the British people's lawful but largely unwilling compliance?
The concept of same sex marriages seems to have become something of a "holy grail" ever since the turn of the 21st century, with at least 15 countries following each other's lead in first drafting and then legally enacting this completely unnatural and unnecessary legal status. Not content with Civil Partnerships, which were widely introduced by most of the same 15 countries who were subsequently convinced to upgrade to a full marital status, clearly for some LGBT activists the principle was far more important than the legal status of the relationship itself, a case of being legally "married" as nothing else would do! Fortunately, for those who still cling to the traditional ideals of a marriage being between a man and a woman, the LGBT movement has yet to compel the major religions of the world into servile compliance, with the Catholic Church, the mainstream Christian religion and the Islamic faiths all thus far refusing to participate in solemnising same sex marriages, although their refusal to celebrate such unions is almost certain to be tested before the courts at some point in time.
As to the main reason why such progress has been made on the issue of gay marriages thus far by the LGBT community? Although one suspects that having a sympathetic Prime Minister and his sympathetic wife has helped bring gay marriage to a legal fulfilment, as has the presence of a number of high profile gay representatives and supporters in Parliament, one suspects that it is both the apathy and the ambivalence of the British electorate to the issue that has played the biggest part in seeing such statutes become law. Most people are far too busy getting on with their own lives than bothering about whether Bill marries Ben, or whether Jill wants to make Jacqueline her legal husband, after all, who really cares? The thing is though, if all any of those gay couples who got married today wanted was the marriage certificate, then they got what they wanted and good luck to them. If all they wanted was a nice day out and a reason to celebrate with their family and friends; and the right to call themselves husband and wife, then they got what they wanted and good luck to them. However, if what they wanted to do was reshape society and change people's attitudes to the idea of two people of the same sex living together as a traditional man and wife, then they're likely to be in for a severe disappointment, because like it not most people still regard a mummy and a daddy, a husband and wife, a mister and a missus, as a man and a woman; and anything other than that is just strange. 

Only Slow People Believe In A Two-Speed Europe:

I wonder just how slow, or stupid, people need to be, to believe that the creation of a two-speed Europe, as opposed to any other speed you care to mention, will make any real difference to the final destination that its creators have ultimately set out for it. If we were all travelling to Brussels, does it really matter how long we took to get there, or what route we took, because after all that's our final destination, which in this particular case is a federal European super state called the United States of Europe.
I mention this, only because a number of British newspapers have been carrying headlines celebrating the fact that the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has been reported as stating that he can now recognise the possible need for a two-speed Europe, those who are in the Eurozone proper and those who are not, the "inners" and the "outers" if you will. Of course, desperate as they are for good news on the whole European subject, the Tory led coalition government of David Cameron has seized on Mr Schauble's remarks as some sort of confirmation that their stated aims of renegotiating our European membership terms can and will be a successful electoral strategy, in the run-up to the 2015 elections, which is clearly a nonsense.
The German government of Angela Merkel have already made plain their desire to keep the UK in the European Union, up to a point, so a sop here, or a sop there that allows Mr Cameron to claim some sort of successful negotiating strategy, would be well worth the price of appearing to acquiesce to some of his demands. Remember the phrase, a "two speed" Europe, not a divergent one, not a parallel one, but a Europe that has a shared destination, of ever closer union. After all, it wasn't that many weeks ago that Chancellor Merkel addressed both British houses of parliament and informed all of our representatives and legislators that they were likely to be "disappointed" if they expected any sort of radical change to the EU, or indeed her personal vision for it. In other words, the project continues apace, with no deviations, no major compromises, just the odd tweak here and there to satisfy Europhiles like Mr Cameron in order that they can honestly try and hoodwink their native electorates.
The only reason that Germany would even entertain the idea accommodating David Cameron's wish list of repatriated competencies is purely for their own national benefit; and to ensure the success of the entire European experiment, of which Germany has been one of the chief architects. As the biggest, wealthiest and most influential economy in Europe; and the country to have gained the greatest economic benefit from the creation of the Eurozone, Germany has inadvertently found itself acting as the bank of last resort for the ill thought out and wholly ineffective continental currency. As the greatest beneficiary of the Euro scheme, the Euro's ongoing struggle to fit a number of massively ill-matched national economies into a single unitary currency has been a disaster from beginning to end, creating a situation where all of Germany's economic gains might easily be mortgaged to pay off the debts of other more profligate member states. Although Britain has reasonably stayed out of the Eurozone, as has Sweden and Denmark, their economic influence remains essential, if only because of the billions that they pump into the EU on an annual basis. Were it not for the now much reduced rebate that the UK receives back from the European Union, Britain would likely be a bigger contributor to the EU than Germany, so it is hardly surprising that Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, are more than happy to throw Mr Cameron a few crumbs now and again, especially if it helps guarantee the £8 billion direct membership fee that our country pays into the club every single year, not including the billions that are also being paid in other associated regulatory costs.
Number 10 may well celebrate Mr Schaubles public endorsement of a two-speed Europe as some form of tacit endorsement of Mr Cameron's half-hearted approach to a renegotiation of our European membership terms, but one suspects that it'll end up being a short-lived celebration, rather like the miner who celebrates getting rich, only to find that he's been digging up "fools gold" instead. The French leader, Francoise Hollande, has already made plain that he sees no need for any wholesale treaty renegotiations; and the leaders of Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark are also thought to be reluctant to re-open treaty negotiations, for fear of the problems that it cause within their own countries. With Qualified Majority Voting increasingly becoming the method of deciding the future of the EU; and with national vetoes steadily becoming a thing of the past, in terms of blocking new European laws, regulations and directives at a national level, perhaps Mr Cameron's purported slow and steady approach to the issue of treaty renegotiation helps to illuminate his true character? It's not that he's cautious, or thoughtful or slow and steady, but rather he's just plain stupid, but we're too polite to say so? 

Friday 28 March 2014

Reflecting Public Opinion? - Poll The Other One!

You can tell that there are national elections on the way, simply because of the avalanche of public opinion polls that are being released on an almost daily basis, to inform us about what we're supposed to be thinking with regard to the various political parties, the individual party leaders, or even the economic abilities of the different candidates for the future chancellor of the exchequer. Companies such as Angus Reid, YouGov, Gallup, Harris, Ipsos Mori, ICM, Populus and Opinium are the main polling companies that carry out such statistical exercises in the UK; often in a very similar manner, but sometimes not.
Typically, most of these companies will collect their data through either online polling, or via the telephone, rather than using face-to-face interviews, which would be far more expensive and might sway opinions amongst those respondents who dislike such direct interviewing techniques. As a rule, most pollsters attempt to recreate the demographic mix of the population at large, in terms of age, gender, social class, length of residency, work status, whether they've taken a foreign holiday in the previous three years, and geographical location, as well as other incidental measures such as the newspapers that they read, which party they have previously supported, which party they are leaning towards, etc. Where respondents state that either they failed to vote in the last election, or consider themselves unlikely to vote in upcoming elections, then they are generally weighted down, or discounted entirely from the final calculations.
Studies in the United States has found some evidence that although necessary for politicians, businesses and policy makers generally, both telephone and internet polls can often have their own inherent weaknesses, to the extent that sometimes a successful outcome, in successfully matching polling evidence with actual outcomes, is just as much a case of luck, as it is anything else. It is sometimes the case that telephone polls are not truly representative of an entire market or electorate, for the simple reason that the less economically well off, the poorest section of society, are far less likely to have access to a telephone, or indeed a computer. Similarly, other studies in America have found that elderly people are far less likely to respond to a telephone poll, assuming that they bother to answer the phone at all, whilst younger households are reportedly less likely to have a fixed telephone line in their homes, than say their middle-aged or elderly counterparts. These are just a few of the potential problems and issues that virtually all public polling companies face, when trying to find out what ordinary people think about a range of products, policies, or whatever else the survey happens to be about. So when certain polling organisations try to give the impression that they have successfully identified every single possible group, whether by age, by gender, social class, residency, work status, foreign holidays, or even by the number of cars that they own, then it's perhaps worth being a little bit suspicious of their claims, because there are any number of in-built social and economic issues that make such data collection not quite so simple as they make it seem.
It is also worth pointing out perhaps that one analysis of the now much more common internet poll, suggests that by their very nature they are completely useless as a means of identifying the random view and opinions of random voters, ostensibly because there is absolutely nothing random about the people who participate in them, as the vast majority of those being questioned are being so through personal choice. For at least one leading American analyst, those who actively put themselves forward to be polled, are doing so because they have a personal interest and/or involvement with the subject at hand, which in his view makes them completely unsuitable to participate in what is supposed to be a random survey on the issues themselves, not of the preconceived or firmly held beliefs of the respondents. In the same way, where is the sense in only offering respondents a partially prompted choice of possible political parties, when other unprompted ones clearly exist for people to choose from? Having recently participated in a number of online surveys, the writer of this blog knows it to be true that he chose to involve himself in the activities of a particular polling company; and now knows how to avoid the rather obvious question of selecting either Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats when posed the question of which one he would vote for. The point being that the poll questionnaire is deliberately designed to encourage people to choose one of the three traditional parties, rather than selecting any one of the minor political parties, which purposefully skews the outcome. There's nothing random in that, it's a flawed result, brought about by a flawed concept. 
Of course, there is an argument that such questionable polling can often become a "self fulfilling prophesy", in that they help to convince wavering voters not to vote for a party, simply on the basis of the percentage that the polling companies have published for them, a vote for a minor party is going to be a wasted vote, thus encouraging some people to cast their ballot for one of the traditional mainstream parties instead. Additionally, where deliberately leading questions are posed to the respondent, this can often affect both their answer, as well as their overall perception of other specific groups, to the extent that the same question posed in a variety of ways can elicit a variety of answers, depending on how random the polling company was the results to be.
The reality is of course that significant numbers of people do want to genuinely participate in the decisions that directly affect their lives; and as a result willingly enrol themselves into polling panels, focus groups and online communities, with the intention of having their voices heard, which is admirable. Unfortunately for most, the big polling companies have been at their jobs a great deal longer than the average respondent and probably know the psychological makeup of the average voter, better than the individual knows themselves. In common with our modern media, it is a mistake to believe that today's pollsters are following the political developments of the day, because in all likelihood they are actually involved with shaping the political landscape that controls our lives. Polling companies reflect public opinion? Don't make me laugh, poll the other one! 

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Good Grief, Talk About Missing The Point!

The political journalist Mehdi Hasan, writing in the Huffington Post today, has offered a list of nineteen questions that he believes the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, should ask the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, during their two upcoming European debates, the first of which is going to be broadcast on LBC this evening and the second on BBC2 in a week's time.
Now leaving aside that Huffington Post is renowned for promoting advocacy journalism at its very worst, so you can virtually guarantee that any article featured in the "Huff" will have a pre-determined liberal slant, most of the vitally important questions suggested by Mr Hasan, for Mr Clegg to ask, are little more than a reflection of the personal antipathy that the journalist obviously feels for UKIP generally  and Mr Farage specifically. Rather than being designed to elicit useful information for the listener, or the viewer, about the thorny issue of our European membership, so that voters might be able to make an informed decision on the matter, at some point in the future, Mr Hasan is obviously hoping that Mr Farage is both naive enough and reckless enough to fall into the fairly obvious traps that many of the questions clearly represent.
Even though Mr Hasan is not highly regarded by the author of this blog, who simply cannot understand the level of authority seemingly attached to his political views by the likes of the BBC and the Huffington Post, in order to ensure that this particular journalist is in no way misrepresented, the questions he has suggested Nick Clegg asks are reproduced in full below, along with our own response to the individual points raised. Obviously our responses to Mr Hasan's points are entirely our own and do not represent any official UKIP position, but as a regular British voter with more than a passing interest in the subject, no more, no less, then these responses are simply offered by way of another informed opinion, so people make of them what they will.  
1) You say that half of British businesses would support quitting the EU - the Institute of Directors (IoD), however, polled its members and found only 15% back the UK leaving the EU. Why should we believe you, and not the IoD?
Before looking at the specific figures used by Mehdi Hasan, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the Institute of Directors claim to represent 34,500 businesses within the UK, including individual entrepreneurs, SME's, as well as Public Sector and Multinational organisations. However, there are thought to be an estimated 4.9 million businesses operating in the UK at any one time, so any suggestion that the IoD speaks for the entire British business community is entirely false; and in fact it is probably truer to say that they actually represent the interests of those much larger companies, which due to their sheer size and operational reach, are less affected by the negative effects of EU membership.
As to the numbers quoted by Mr Hasan specifically, the 15% he refers to, who would back the UK leaving the EU formed part of a poll carried out in 2013, which saw 1300 members of the IoD asked for their views. Of that number, some 57%, or more than half were in favour of David Cameron attempting to renegotiate Britain's terms of its EU membership, something that the EU has proved itself reluctant to do thus far. A similar poll of 1,000 IoD members conducted in 2011, found that 63% of business respondents were in favour of a much looser relationship with Europe, with the word "major" being used to described the changes that they would prefer, as opposed to "minor" changes, or indeed "tinkering around the edges", which is almost certainly all that David Cameron can expect from his European counterparts. Clearly, with no meaningful EU renegotiations having taken place thus far; and the likelihood of any major changes being agreed seeming to be remote at best, it is therefore open to question just how those same IoD members might choose to vote once renegotiation was "off the table", once and for all, so to speak. 
2) Isn't it true that the number of European migrants in the UK (2.3million) is almost exactly balanced by the number of Britons living elsewhere in the EU (2.2million)?
It is difficult to know whether or not Mehdi Hasan is being deliberately obtuse or not in making this specific point, as he should well know that the position of existing EU migrants, both British and European, living in other member states would inevitably form part of the formal discussions that would take place between the UK and its former fellow members. EU migration specifically has never been a central plank of UKIP's overall migration policy, only migration generally, whether that be from Europe, from the Commonwealth, from Asia, or indeed from North America.
Despite how he attempts to frame the argument, Mr Hasan knows full well that UKIP has highlighted European migration simply because, through virtue of our country's current EU membership, we cannot refuse to allow any and all EU citizens free access through our national borders, unlike migrants from elsewhere in the world. It has always been UKIP's basic argument that an estimated 400 million European citizens have the legal right to enter the UK, should they wish to do so. Time and time again, commentators like Mr Hasan have used this same argument to accuse UKIP of scaremongering for political advantage, when they have done nothing of the sort. UKIP have simply chosen to illustrate the absurdity of the EU's own open door migration policies, by clarifying the right of EU nationals to come and settle in Britain should they wish to do so. The fact that 397 million of them have chosen not to do so, should just be regarded as a blessing, or a lucky break for our country that's all. 
3) What would you want to happen to the 2.2million Britons who live in the EU once we pull out? Forcible repatriation back here to the UK?
Much of this particular question has been answered in the last one, although it is perhaps worth making the point that for hundreds of years British citizens have travelled and settled the globe, without the need for a quid pro quo arrangement having previously been put in place. British citizens looking to settle elsewhere in the world, in places like Australia, New Zealand, North America, etc. are generally required to offer the host nation something that they need, whether that's money, investment, skills or knowledge, they simply cannot arrive en masse and expect to be granted residential status without comment. Yet here in Britain, we are expected to offer an open door immigration policy to anyone who purports to originate from the European Union without even the most basic checks being carried out. As has been previously mentioned, the ongoing status of European citizens already resident in the UK, as well as those British citizens living or working on the continent will undoubtedly play a part in any settlement that the UK and the EU come to, if and when the UK decides to withdraw from the European Union. It's fairly safe to assume however that if we end up swopping like for like then the UK will derive far more benefit from any such exchanges as the mostly affluent and highly skilled ex-pat community slowly but surely finds its way home to the UK. 
4) The EU costs us, each and every one of us, 37p* per person, per day. Do you really think that's unaffordable? A little over half the cost of a Mars bar?
Once again Mr Hasan is being deliberately disingenuous with his facts, either that or he really does believe that the UK only pays its direct membership fees of around £53 million per day to the European Union, in which case he really shouldn't be posing these questions in the first place. According to at least three different news sources, The Huffington Post, the Telegraph and Open Europe, the financial costs to UK businesses because of EU over-regulation can amount to anything between £27.4 billion per year and £118 billion per year, depending on who choose to believe. As a rule, when confronted by such hugely differing figures, it is often best to just split the difference, as it's often the case that the true figure lies somewhere in the middle, due to most sources either under or over-reporting their calculations anyway. So if we assume a cost of around £50 billion in EU over-regulation to British business, then that would suddenly increase Mr Hasan's own figures by around eight-fold, which is around £2.50 per day, because after all business will not simply absorb those costs, in all likelihood they'll pass them on to their customers, which is us. The truth is of course that nobody knows for sure just how much our EU membership costs us every day, or every year, so to try and make an argument that it's the price of a Mars bar is quite frankly ridiculous. And let's face it, if an experienced journalist like Mr Hasan can't find the actual amount, then what chance do the rest of us have?  
5) How much money have you personally claimed in expenses from the European Parliament, in addition to your salary? Is it really more than £2million?
Sadly, this is one of those questions where Mr Hasan openly displays his own personal political partiality, to the extent that most people would probably tell him to mind his own business. However, as this particular question has been hanging around for some time, here's my own thought on the subject. What Price Britain's Freedom?
6) If you're so worried about the EU 'gravy train' and 'value for money' in Brussels, why did a member of your party's NEC ask Ukip MEPs to divert £10,000 each from their European parliamentary allowances and salaries to Ukip headquarters?
Unfortunately, unlike the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is funded by the Trade Union Movement, the Conservative Party, which is funded by big business and the Liberal Democrat Party which is also funded by business, increasingly so since going into government, UKIP has very few large party donors to rely on, when it comes to funding its electoral campaigns and the day-to-day running of its political operations in the UK. A significant number of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP's in the UK parliament already illicitly channel taxpayers money, from the expenses fund, into their own party's individual coffers, so the fact that UKIP require their own representatives to make a financial contribution to the costs of running the party's operations here in the UK, from their own personal monies, should surely be seen as a positive thing, rather than something to be ashamed about. After all, most of UKIP's MEP's would derive a direct benefit from the support that they receive in Britain, so why shouldn't they help underpin the costs of it? 
7) Is it true that EU authorities have been asked to investigate whether Ukip staff in the UK are being paid with EU money, in breach of EU regulations? That's pretty embarrassing, isn't it?
If UKIP representatives are indeed operating within the letter and spirit of the law then they have nothing to fear from any investigation into their party practices. However, as this potential investigation is thought to have originated from a malicious complaint by one of the opposing parties in the European Parliament, one can only hope that their electoral practices are as rigorous as they ought to be, in the event that the EP authorities decide to carry out a thorough investigation into all of the various parties who sit there. Sadly, the inference from Mr Hasan appears to be that UKIP are guilty of something before they have even been investigated, tried or judged, which is perhaps the mark of a journalist who concerns himself with tittle-tattle and gossip, rather than cold hard facts.
8) How embarrassed were you personally when former Ukip MEP Tom Wise was jailed in 2009 for expenses fraud? Or when former Ukip MEP Ashley Mote was jailed for benefit fraud in 2004?
Probably as embarrassed as any other party leader would be when one of their elected representatives chooses to break the law, just ask David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband when their various colleagues were caught with their hands in the cookie jar during the Expenses Scandal! 
9) You have spent the past year or so hyperventilating about the cost of 'benefit tourism' - yet reports produced by both the EU and the UK government suggest there really isn't an issue with so-called benefit tourism. What empirical evidence, if any, do you have to the contrary?
Mehdi Hasan states that reports produced by both the EU and the UK governments suggest that there isn't really an issue with is commonly called "benefit tourism". However, it is worth noting that the EU would hardly be pre-disposed to look at such a subject objectively, as the entire issue would bring into question one of the founding principles of the European Union, that of the free movement of people. In that sense the EU study was hardly the work of a truly impartial arbiter, as the statisticians at Migration Watch found when they studied the EU's own findings, the outcome of which can be seen here:
Additionally, other public sources, in this case a newspaper and an online blog have reviewed the issue of "economic tourism" and have issued their own findings on the subject, which are shown below:
10) Isn't it the case that migrants from the new EU countries have paid 30% more in taxes to the UK exchequer than they've taken out in benefits or public services?
Assuming that Mehdi Hasan's information is taken from the same CREAM report that he used to support his assertions regarding benefit tourism, then the more recent Migration Watch analysis of the subject is perhaps the best place to look for an informed rebuttal on the topic:
11) Which taxes would you have raised to replace the £5billion that migrants from eastern Europe are estimated to have contributed to our economy between 2004 and 2011?
It is interesting that most Europhiles seem to completely miss the point that had Eastern European workers NOT come to Britain, then their jobs would have been taken by other people, including our own native workforce. It is a complete fallacy to presume that the jobs undertaken by foreign workers could not or would not be done by British workers, assuming of course that employers would have been compelled to offer a fair days pay for a fair days work. By introducing an army of cheap foreign workers some of the main beneficiaries have been crop growers, farmers, gang-masters and employment agencies who have made their own living, off the backs of millions of low paid workers from abroad. Had they never been allowed into the country to begin with, it seems likely that farmers, crop growers and employment agencies would have had to offer higher rates of basic pay to attract British workers. So, although there may have been fewer of them, the amount of money generated by this smaller workforce could well have been equal to, if not greater than the stated £5 billion generated by the foreign workers. It is also worth pointing out that unlike their foreign counterparts, British workers would not have taken part or all of their earnings out of the country, as is the case with most European workers, therefore providing no direct benefit to the UK economy as a whole.
12) Why do you think it is that Ukip doesn't have any female MEPs?
As Mr Hasan knows full well, both Marta Andreasen and Nikki Sinclair started out as UKIP representatives, but because of their own personal issues made the decision to leave the party, decisions that will subsequently be tested in the forthcoming European Election in May this year. As it is there are plenty of female replacements waiting in the wings to fulfil the roles they abandoned, including the likes of Janice Atkinson, Louise Bours, Margot Parker, Jane Collins, along with parliamentary party colleagues like Diane James, Suzanne Evans, etc. so obviously no shortage of women wanting to represent the party, despite what the likes of Mr Hasan would like to think. 
13) Could it be because, as former Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen once put it, you're an "anti-women.. dictator" whose view is that "women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom"?
Couldn't possibly comment on that, although it clearly says something about the journalist who is prepared to repeat such idle gossip and tittle-tattle.
14) You say you're party is mainstream and isn't on the far-right but you sit with the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament, don't you? Doesn't it include representatives of the Danish People's Party, the True Finns Party and Italy's Lega Nord - all of them pretty far-right parties?
As far as one is aware the Danish People's Party, the True Finns and Lega Nord are all parties representing foreign constituents, so why would the British people be in the least bit interested in their particular policies and strategies. Were Mr Farage to start advocating any sort of extreme right wing measures or policies, one might imagine that the British people would rebuff his party at the election, but as the expression goes, politics makes for strange bedfellows; and so it would seem.
15) You're fellow co-chair of the EFD, the Lega Nord's Francesco Speroni, has described far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose "ideas are in defence of western civilisation" - why don't you take this opportunity tonight to distance yourself from him and his horrific remarks?
One imagines that Francesco Speroni's remarks are a matter for him and his party, unless of course, he was officially issuing the statement on behalf of the EFD as a group, which clearly doesn't appear to be the case. If Mr Farage was to start denouncing every other politician's remarks, he wouldn't have much time left to devote himself to the important matters at hand, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. As it is, Mr Farage and his party are the only mainstream political party that has willingly proscribed members of other known right wing groups, preventing them from joining UKIP. Perhaps Mr Cameron, Clegg and Miliband would like to follow his lead in this?
16) On the subject of horrific remarks, do you support your colleague Gerard Batten's demand that British Muslims sign up to a special code of conduct, in which they promise not to be violent? He is, after all, your chief whip?
Being a party that promotes the idea of free speech, it goes without saying that that ideal should apply to most views and opinions, including the more sillier ones. He's no doubt entitled to say it, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for it to become official party policy.
17) And do you share Batten's support for a ban on any new mosques across the whole of Europe?
Asked and answered already, one would have thought?
18) You often claim to speak for Joe Public - are you aware that the latest poll shows more Britons want to stay in the EU (41%) than leave (39%)?
A single skewed poll that purported to be a like for like comparison, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. As any good accountant or pollster will tell you, numbers can say anything that you want them to, especially if you slant the question, or skew the data.
19) What is it that you most object to about the UK's membership of the EU - the cheaper and safer flights; the cheaper and better phone calls; the cleaner beaches and action on climate change; the higher food safety standards; the tackling of cross-border crime; the single market; the 3million jobs; the 57 years of peace; the global influence?
Mr Hasan seems to believe that these things can only have been delivered through the EU, which is palpable nonsense. Virtually all of these things would have been delivered regardless of our membership, ostensibly through individual trading agreements, none of which would have required ever closer union and the federalisation of Europe's nation states. As for the 3 million jobs, will they be the same mythical jobs that the author of the report that the figure initially came has publicly denounced Nick Clegg for using them out of context? As for 57 years of peace, obviously Mr Hasan has never heard of NATO or the UN. Global influence? Britain's global influence has declined markedly since joining the EU, so this idea that the UK benefits from its membership of the EU on the world stage, is a complete fallacy, one that is constantly perpetuated by the likes of Mr Hasan and Mr Clegg because they're delusional enough to believe it. As for the overall benefits of the EU, in terms of security, global influence and preventing international disputes, just how did that Crimea crisis work out then? Oh I see! 

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Housing Benefit - A Cash Cow For The Milking!

According to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, under the second level of "safety", there is said to be the security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property, which in themselves incorporate the basic requirements of every sentient human being on the planet, regardless of whether they're black, white, brown or red, whether they're rich or they're poor, male or female, educated or uneducated, Muslim or Christian, believer or non-believer.
Of course, in today's increasingly globalised world we routinely accept as a basic human right an individual's access to adequate healthcare, employment, resources, a family life and property rights, within the limits of a free and equitable society, but without specifically setting universally accepted standards for all of these basic human rights. As a result we might have one individual living in a palatial mansion, while another lives in a hovel, one man and his family might eat grasses to sustain themselves, while another feasts on the best cuisine that money can buy. One man might be denied employment through the colour of his skin, or the manner of his birth, whereas another man is guaranteed employment regardless of his caste, his colour, or indeed his ability, or his apparent lack of education. One might be condemned to die at a comparatively early age through an easily preventable illness or disease, while another is spared death through spectacular advances made in modern medicines, or through the provision of a readily available medical remedy. In other words, despite sharing the same basic primal needs as one another, as members of a shared human race, in reality a person's access to and availability of these necessary basic needs is often influenced by any number of different factors, including climate, culture, geography, politics, religion, economics, trade innate inequalities and of course money, or more importantly perhaps, personal wealth.
In Britain today, we often pride ourselves on our modern westernised society with its ready access to many of these same basic needs, a good diet, a good job, sufficient resources, our family around us, a fairly effective healthcare system and the right to buy and own property, as we are able. We all know the expression "An Englishman's home is his castle", which is palpable nonsense of course, simply because if it's not owned by a mortgage company (the bank or the building society), then increasingly it's more likely to be owned by a private or public landlord, so in fact, it's their castle, as opposed to yours. However, that major point aside, for most tenants and occupiers, the fact that their home is actually owned by someone else, who then chooses to rent out their property to someone else at a fixed monthly cost is largely immaterial, as being a tenant is much more preferential than having to live on the streets, in a bed and breakfast hotel, or even in a homeless shelter, none of which can provide the level of security that comes with having you own front door to shelter behind.
It would be wrong to imagine that large scale public or social housing is peculiar to Britain, as most developed and  developing countries have also recognised the need for that basic requirement for shelter amongst their own indigenous populations, although it's probably fair to say that the UK was a global pioneer in the provision of such housing, not initially at a government level, but at a purely private philanthropic one. It was during the 19th century that any number of individual philanthropists, industrial employers and social reformers took it upon themselves to establish worker's tenements, villages and communities for those less fortunate than themselves; and it was only in later decades that central government took on responsibility for communal housing, largely as a result of the public disease and pestilence that was ravaging many of the poorly built slums and dwellings that had previously been thrown up by unscrupulous landowners, employers and builders.
Today, most modern nations make significant provisions for housing their citizens, often at huge financial costs to the individual country's national exchequers. In 2009, the Brazilian government set out proposals to build around one million new homes, having set aside an estimated $18 billion to build them; and at the same time setting a long term goal of building around 3 million new homes in total. In China, where the provision of public housing falls under the direct remit of the central government, the construction of an estimated 36 million new homes is reported to be an core strategy of the communist government's latest 5 year economic plan for the country. In Singapore, public housing provision is the responsibility of local housing boards, who offer affordable housing to tenants on 99 year leases, ensuring that the occupants have some degree of connection with a family home, but also making sure that at some point in time that the property can and will come back into public use.
In North America, Canada is increasingly adopting a public housing strategy that is based on a fusion of both public and private investment, in what are mixed housing estates, with low cost housing included as a central part of any new proposed private developments. The city authorities in Toronto are also said to have made use of what they refer to as "stop gap" housing measures by utilising or building semi-permanent, or wholly temporary housing units, which it is hoped will bridge the period between planning proposals being made and the finished properties being ready for their new owners and tenants to move into.
In France and following the destruction caused during the Second World War, as in Britain, the post war government made a priority of constructing brand new social housing, to help replace the often privately owned properties that had been destroyed during the conflict. In order to prevent private landlords exploiting the shortage of properties immediately after the war, the French authorities were reported to have imposed rent controls in order to ensure its ongoing affordability. Once again, in common with the UK the authorities in France also set about building a series of post-war "New Towns" to house those displaced from the cities and as a means of providing affordable public housing to the masses. Unfortunately, as in Britain, in some cases these new housing estates eventually became home to less desirable elements, with the result that they were quickly abandoned by the more law-abiding citizens, who were then in turn replaced with even more undesirables. In more recent times, the French authorities have begun to repeat the practices from elsewhere in the world, of insisting that 20% of any new proposed housing development must be specifically set aside for affordable public housing, although even now approximately 50% of the total property rental market in France is still privately controlled, another negative feature of the sector that it shares with the UK.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best country's for the provision and development of public housing was pre-war Germany, where low rise apartment type accommodations was said to have become to most common form of social housing, something that was only brought to an end following the rise of the Nazi Party during the early 1930's. However, following the war itself, the defeat of Nazism and the separation of Germany into East and West, the East German authorities were keen to develop ways of quickly and cheaply housing their citizens, in light of the utter destruction that had been wrought on the city by the Allied Forces. Within a relatively short time East German designers and architects had managed to produce a prefabricated modular construction design that allowed new low rise housing estates, of up to five floors in height, to begin springing up all over the country; and helping to alleviate much of the housing shortage that had previously blighted the communist state. In fact, the basic model was said to have been so successful that several improved varieties of the same simple design was said to have been employed in East Germany over the course of the next 30 years or so.
Britain today is reported to need one million new homes just to stand still in terms of housing, the same number that Labour's Ed Miliband has promised to build if he and his party are re-elected to national office in 2015; and exactly the same number of homes that Clement Atlee's post-war Labour government built between 1945 and 1951, a Golden Age of British housing construction, even though the country was essentially bankrupt. It is worth noting that around the same time that supposedly bankrupt Britain was building these million new homes, the unemployment rate was thought to have been hovering around 1-2%, as close to full employment as we're ever likely to get in this country again.
According to one of the directors of a national housing campaign group, successive British governments, from Margaret Thatcher onwards, have spent the past few decades deliberately creating a form of private investment that builds very few new homes, rinses the taxman by allowing overly beneficial tax breaks, artificially raises the costs of new houses generally and prices first-time buyers out of the housing marketplace. According to a recent report issued by the same campaign group, this has helped to create a situation where the older and wealthier property investors gain the greatest financial benefits from the current housing market, even though they have already gained huge personal financial benefits from earlier price increases. In other words, the rich simply get richer, because the system has been deliberately engineered in their favour.
As things stand for most Buy To Let Landlords, they are currently allowed to offset 10% of their rental income through "wear and tear" deductions, whilst additional allowances are also made for items such as letting fees, ground rent, insurance, accountants fees, utility bills and council tax. in the tax year 2010-2011, it has been estimated that around £13 billion was deducted by private landlords for such expenses, which was thought to be the equivalent of around £5.2 billion lost in potential tax revenues, all of which was legally claimed. At the same time it has been suggested that many private landlords are deliberately exploiting the loopholes in the tax system to avoid having to pay Capital Gains Tax on properties that they would normally have to pay the CGT levy on. Unrecorded lettings, those that are "off the books" are also an area of concern for those who take an interest in the industry, as these unregistered and unregulated transactions ensure that the National Exchequer and therefore the taxpayer loses out on any tax revenues due to the. It has also been reported that there are approximately 500,000 private landlords registered with the HMRC for tax purposes, yet most calculations tend to suggest that there are in fact up to 1.5 million landlords letting properties at any one time, meaning that about one million property owners have not registered themselves with the tax authorities. Some commentators have questioned the reluctance of government to close down such obvious loopholes, by placing a duty on both estate agents and mortgage lenders to report on their clients, to ensure that HMRC would have an almost complete record of all private landlords, who could then be monitored more effectively.
At least one source has suggested that the private rental market in the UK derives around £35 billion from public funds each and every year, although most other sources place the amount at around £25 billion. Regardless of the exact figure, when one considers that Brazil plans to build one million new homes for around £10 billion, that Legal and General Insurance have proposed building several "New Towns" for £5 billion, that the Labour Party plans to invest £10 billion to help build one million new homes over five years, it clearly puts the £25 billion spent on private sector rents into some sort of perspective. In theory, with that same amount of taxpayers money, the UK government could probably build around 1.5-2 million new homes over a five-year period and bring an end to the national housing shortage within a few short years.
But, rather than trying to bring an end to this exploitation of the public purse; and in the process help reduce the nation's almost endless public deficit, it seems that central government are indifferent to the problem. According to one source, in the quarter, April to June 2013 mortgage lenders approved an estimated 40,000 new Buy To Let mortgages, worth around £5.1 billion, a clear indication that the private sector rental market is still very much regarded as an easily available "cash cow" by some property investors. The recent changes to pension savings announced by the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne may in itself result in even more demands being made on the public purse, especially if a significant number of pensioner investors choose to put all or part of their savings into the private property rental markets through schemes like the Buy To Let, or similar. If that were to happen then rental costs will undoubtedly rise, costs to the public purse will escalate, property prices will increase and any hopes that the government has of ever reducing overall public debt will prove to be as elusive as ever. 

Monday 24 March 2014

Be Warned, All That Glisters Is Not Gold!

Even though the expression "a dead cat's bounce" is not a very nice way of describing any sort of economic exercise or outcome, if only because it is a highly distasteful image for any caring pet owner to contemplate, but given that the Conservative Party's entire approach to central financial planning is to make it as unpalatable, divisive and inequitable as humanly possible, then perhaps a wholly ugly and unpleasant image is entirely necessary to describe a wholly ugly and unpleasant party.
The reason for mentioning this particular American expression, is that it has been used recently by an economic commentator with specific regard to George Osborne's latest budget measures, including the proposal to allow pensioners to release a percentage of their accumulated private pensions funds, which can then be used for paying off their mortgages, buying a separate annuity, investing in property, or whatever else they might choose to do with their own hard earned monies. Of course, on the face of it these changes will be great news for those hundreds of thousands of pensioners who have been responsible enough, or fortunate enough to have saved towards their own pension provisions, outside of the state pensions that everyone is entitled to. However, any suggestion that Mr Osborne has introduced such changes purely for the benefit of the pensioners themselves is entirely wrong, simply because, as with any such government measures, there will inevitably winners and losers, as the changes begin to roll out across the country.
Clearly, those pensioners who choose to release their accumulated funds will benefit, but only insofar as their fresh monies do not cause them to breach their personal tax thresholds, after which normal tax deductions would occur, a calculation that undoubtedly played a part in Mr Osborne's decision. Other potential losers from these pension changes are thought to be both personal financial advisers and of course the annuity industry generally. According to some investment analysts, the changes introduced by the Chancellor could prove to be disastrous to the industry, as hundreds of thousands of pensioners defer or cancel their planned annuity investments, to the extent that the annuity markets might see falls of between 80-90% in new investments being purchased.
Some less charitable commentators have accused the Chancellor and the Coalition of essentially stealing future tax revenues to pay for today's tax giveaways, as well as using temporary Treasury revenues, to pay for permanent and ongoing giveaways, a clearly unsustainable fiscal strategy in the long-term. Even though a significant number of people will almost certainly spend their pension "windfall" on the right sorts of things, including annuities, mortgages and property, others will not and will undoubtedly use the opportunity to buy the sorts of services and products that will help energise the wider economy and that should prove to add a political benefit for the Coalition in the short-term.
Everyone should be clear that Mr Osborne's budget is and was a political budget, one that was designed to offer the maximum of benefit to the specific voter groups that the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat allies will hope to target in the forthcoming elections, both at European and national level. However, everyone should also be clear that this offer of "jam today" for pensioners, young families and the aspirational middle classes is a temporary truce during the austerity war that the Conservatives have fought in the past, are fighting at present and will undoubtedly fight in the future.
Part of the problem for the Conservatives and their Liberal Democratic allies, as well as for any future Labour government is that, as much as they try and control the nation's purse strings, events elsewhere, in the Far East, in Europe or in North America, can often contrive to undo any good that British governments might try to impose on the country. According to a large number of economic experts and in clear disagreement with George Osborne, Britain's current mini-boom, or slow economic recovery is not in the least bit sustainable, simply because it is being fuelled by cheap money, government backed schemes like "Help To Buy", an increasingly low-paid labour force and now another government sponsored scheme to release private pension monies into the economy. Rather than encouraging personal savings and investment, the mark of a financially healthy economy, the UK is going the other way, where a growing number of workers are having to spend more and more of their limited incomes on feeding, housing, clothing, heating themselves, with little if anything left for that rainy day that inevitably comes around.
Although most experts agree that personal credit levels are currently much lower than they have been in the past, there is some evidence to suggest that personal credit is beginning to rise, especially in terms of unsecured loans and credit card debt, both forms of borrowing that have proven to be disastrous for the economy in the past. Lending on property is also said to be on the rise, as the "Help To Buy" scheme and other private property investors begin to buy up the limited housing stocks that's available. More worryingly perhaps are the warning from the Bank of England that interest rises are inevitable, possibly within the next 12 months, so not a case of "if", but of "when" and "by how much".
Despite the optimistic words coming from Mr Osborne and his Treasury team regarding the country's national debt and the deficit, most people agree that the government is still spending £10 billion each month that it doesn't actually have, which is said to be around the same amount of money that the last Labour government was borrowing each month in 2007. So despite four years of austerity, of scrimping and saving, we're pretty much where we were to begin with, despite the tens of thousands of job losses, the swingeing wage cuts, the spending freezes, we're still as broke as we were seven years ago, which doesn't seem much like progress at all!
Even though he might be horrified to hear the comparison being made, some experts have likened George Osborne's policies to those of his Labour predecessor, Gordon Brown, in that he is attempting to replace government debt with individual personal debt, whether that's through the Car Scrappage Scheme, the Help To Buy Scheme, the Pension Release Scheme, or through the sale of what were formerly publicly owned assets.
The prevailing ideological policies within the current Coalition government believe that there are several ways to reduce the levels of public indebtedness affecting the country, including economic expansion, by increasing tax revenues and reducing welfare. Additionally, government can also increase direct taxation, allow inflation to increase, thereby reducing the value of the existing debt, as well as encouraging private sector debt, by inviting private equity investment. As has been mentioned previously on this blog, (I Wonder What Would Happen If?) there are alternatives methods of increasing economic activity within the UK, without sucking money out of the economy, by borrowing for growth, as opposed to scrimping for survival, but that seemingly flies in the face of the Coalition's current thinking on the matter.
With the underlying promise of several more years of austerity facing the country, in the event that either Labour or Conservative parties are re-elected to national office in 2015, the future does not look bright for those millions of people who have been struggling thus far. For those who are unfortunate enough to be on welfare, in low paid employment, elderly or infirm, the prospect of another four or five years of Labour or Conservative austerity can hardly be regarded as welcoming. No doubt in the short term, those pensioners who are fortunate enough to have accumulated a private pension pot that they've now been given permission to access will be grateful for the extra monies that they receive, although the reported £30-40,000 that most will access to is hardly a life-changing sum, especially once the tax man and all of the other advisers have taken their own personal share of it. Like they say, all that glisters is not gold; and despite what Mr Cameron's government might be hoping for, it is hard to imagine that the recently announced Pension Release Scheme will actually turn out to be the defining political strategy of this particular government's long term economic planning. For the individual pensioners concerned, one can only hope that most of them will choose to use their monies wisely and leave it where it will do them the most good, in a long term annuity.