Monthly Archives: March 2008

A truly McTory McTax

Tory taxes work by getting others to pay them for you.

Thatcher’s Government relieved the down-trodden retail chains by fixing business rates centrally, but dumping the cost onto poll tax. It didn’t matter whether you count your worth in sixpennorths or squillions, you paid a flat-rate tax. That’s called redistributing income. Upwards.

Eventually the message got through: poll tax was a disaster. Easy, said Heseltine: shove it on sales tax. So we got 17½% VAT. A further regressive tax.

Scotland was the testing ground for poll tax: they hated it. They made sure the rest of us heard their pain.

Then it all went silent.

Now the oleaginous Salmond and his side-kick Swinney want to try again. They want a local income tax. Fair enough, said everyone else, stiffling a yawn: that’s your business. Except …

Just as the Scots claim, with some justice, that anything worth reporting nationally happens south of Watford, so the southren folk rarely hear of goings on in the further reaches of the kingdom. Edinburgh is, after all twice as far as Paris; and a damn sight harder (and more expensive) to get to.

That explains why we southren folk have yet to hear of Salmond’s latest wheeze.

The local Scottish income tax will impact on wage-earners. That means Janey and Jimmy McBloggs will be rid of Council Tax, but will find their PAYE going up by 15%.

Huh, err .. Malcolm, that can’t be right, surely?

Well, says Malcolm, try it this way. The basic rate of income tax is 20%. Add 3% local Scottish tax and it comes to 23%.

That means:

3% divided by 20 times 100 = 15%.

The amount paid has increased by 15%.

But that’s not the end of the matter.

Abolishing the Council Tax should mean that the £400 million subsidy given by Westminster to the Scottish budget, to compensate for those who receive Council Tax benefit, would also come to an end.

Not so, declare the affronted Scot Nats. That’s ours by right.

Now, let’s see, says Malcolm. If I give up the car, and travel by public transport, I’ll no longer have to pay road fund tax. Oh, yes, you must, says Mr Scot Nat: that’s denying us our share of the kitty. As a result the English taxpayer continues to finance each and every Scots bod with a couple of grand of public revenue more than each English bod.

There’s a further dimension: the revenue from that 3% local income tax still leaves a gaping gap (Malcolm hates clichés like “black hole”) in Scottish finances.

£750 million quids worth short. Today’s Scotsman is straining at the bit to denounce Yvette Cooper (as Chief Secretary to the Treasury) this wee discrepancy. The follow-up comments tell us all we need to know about the frothing-at-the-mouth tendency.

The Scot Nats always were the Tartan Tories. On tax matters they learned well from those they have sought to emulate.

One last wrinkle: while Janey and Jimmy McBloggs round up the bawbees to pay the extra impost Swinney imposes, the Laird in the Big Hoose up the road, living on his unearned income and what he can squeeze out of the Japanese grouse-shooters, will pay — nothing.

That really is a Tory tax.

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When is a ballot-box like a cess-pit?

Malcolm would not normally read through a legal judgment, least of all one that stretches to 97 pages.

For the case of Simmons v. Khan, in the Queen’s Bench Division, he happily made an exception. For the text of the judgment, Malcolm gratefully tips a hat to Mark Pack at Liberal Democrat Voice.

Judge Richard Mawrey has been this way before: he did a damning job of work on the voting fraud in Birmingham (it was published the day before the 2005 General Election was called), in which he compared the “liberalisation” of the postal voting system to that one might find in a “banana republic”. Mawrey retreads that here:

… sections of the Labour party, led, in the Wards of Aston and Bordesley Green, by the candidates themselves, embarked on a massive programme of electoral fraud in which literally thousands of bogus postal votes were cast for the Labour candidates, securing their election by suspiciously large majorities in a year when Labour otherwise fared poorly. It did not assist the Party as a whole – it lost control of Birmingham – but it did secure a number of Asian Wards for Labour.

I need not set out the details of the frauds perpetrated in Birmingham here. Suffice it to say that I identified no fewer than fourteen types of electoral fraud committed in the two Wards concerned. As will be seen, these types of fraud by no means exhausted the possible methods of postal vote rigging: they just happened to be the fourteen types of fraud practised at the 2004 Birmingham election.

He now puts the boot in again, first on ex-Councillor, ex-Tory Eshaq Khan. Just before the electoral roll was closed, Khan and a small cadre of “agents” (though not the Tory Leader who was the designated Agent) invented 449 new electors in just one polling district, 324 of whom obtained postal votes. All but one of those voted: 229 votes for Khan. In the next-door District, there were 222 late registrations, which produced 176 postal votes, of which 147 were Tory votes. The result was Khan’s election, against the swing in the rest of Slough, with a majority of 120.

The local Labour Party then investigated the new electors, and — surprise — found many examples of “ghost” voters:

At an early stage they came across Hawtrey Close. The list of new registrations showed
(a) 4 Hawtrey Close, 6 new names;
(b) 6 Hawtrey Close, 6 new names;
(c) 8-10 Hawtrey Close, 7 new names.
A total of 19 people registered as new voters in the last week before registrations closed.

What was found on the ground, however, presented a somewhat different picture:
(a) 4 Hawtrey Close contained not six people with Asian names but a Polish couple who were the only inhabitants and confirmed a total absence of Asians in the property;
(b) 6 Hawtrey Close was empty and derelict;
(c) 8-10 Hawtrey Close had once been an old people’s home but this venture had failed some years before and the property was empty, boarded up and derelict.

As a result of 209 challenges to the Register, the Electoral Registration Officer (a Mr Quayle) deleted 145, giving the benefit of doubt to the remaining 64. Those 145 deletions (comprised in just 31 properties) provided 115 postal votes, all but three for Khan.

Khan’s blatant fraud then continued: tenancies and sub-tenancies were invented to “explain” the challenged voters. Again, from the judgment:

… the evidence before me left me in no doubt whatsoever that the ten tenancy agreements (and any more produced to Mr Quayle in this identical form which did not form part of the documents in court) were forgeries, deliberately concocted for the purposes of deceiving Mr Quayle into rejecting the Labour challenges to the Register.

These forgeries were not random pieces of dishonesty by unconnected individuals. They were, on their face, the product of a concerted campaign to resist the challenges to the Register. Given the identity of those who were concerting the campaign to resist the challenge, the inferences capable of being drawn by the court as to the respective merits of the parties to the Petition do not need to be spelled out.

The trial proved the Tories in this Ward were prepared to use forgery, perjury, gross misrepresentation and much more. All in all, the judgment is a fascinating read, with too many characteristics of a detective story, and written in a precise and witty way:

The one part of Mohammed Basharat Khan’s evidence I did accept was his admission that he had been part of Mr Eshaq Khan’s election team, albeit (he claimed) in a very minor capacity. For reasons which will become clearer when we consider the handwriting evidence, he was altogether too modest in his assertions. He was, in fact, a prime mover, playing a major part in the false registration of voters.

However, Malcolm’s point is not mere partisanship. The Judge points out that British electoral practice is a matter of concern for the Council of Europe. He is able to cite a devastating report (the Judge calls it “shaming” and “damning”) from the Council:

… the United Kingdom delivers democratic elections despite the vulnerabilities in its electoral system. These vulnerabilities could easily affect the overall democratic nature of future elections in Great Britain. The Monitoring Committee should, in its periodic reports on the honouring of commitments by member states, pay special attention to electoral issues in the United Kingdom and, if the vulnerabilities noted are found to undermine the overall democratic nature of future elections in Great Britain, apply to initiate a Monitoring procedure with respect to the United Kingdom.

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Hoggart: pot and kettle

Malcolm winces at anything that mocks the afflicted.

Simon Hoggart comes with all the best credentials: Richard Hoggart, one of the most influential social critics of the last century, as a father; King’s, as alma mater. He is quick-witted, capable of turning a well-written phrase, in speech and on paper.

One use of his Cambridge-honed critical talents has been a series of anthologies, based on the Christmas round-robin newsletters of ordinary folk. These spawned from his regular Guardian column, and continue to fill space there. Malcolm assumes this means being paid twice for merely selecting from and sneering at the well-intentioned, if banal writing of others.

So today Hoggart starts today’s Saturday column with more toe-curling stuff, in this case narrating the events of a French holiday:

“We had brought plenty of plastic bags but hadn’t put them in the car as I don’t like to use one supermarket’s bags in another, but this was our downfall as they weren’t issuing any, and we ended up using Sue’s one Co-op canvas bag and buying two at 69 cents for the rest.” Thank heavens for portable computers; otherwise he might have forgotten how much the bags cost.

How droll! My goodness, these people probably keep coal in the bath!

Then the same column concludes with this:

The other day I was in the French Alps, visiting our son who is working in a ski-chalet. The sun scorched down, the snow gleamed, the village was pretty. We were looking forward to a lift ride before walking along the ridge with its sensational views of Mont Blanc. Appetites sharp, our party of six friends and family found a restaurant which seemed to have the perfect menu for all of us. Outside, evidently happy customers were enjoying their lunch. It was 1.35. Could we join them?

The owner was sorry. It was too late. Didn’t we realise he had to work that night? He wasn’t rude; just pleased that he had got rid of more Anglo-Saxons with their wretched work ethic, who arrogantly imagine that restaurateurs should stay open for lunch. He watched with some satisfaction as we trooped up the road to a sort of brasserie, which gladly accepted the 100 or so euros we would have given him.

Malcolm is submitting that back to its onlie-true-begetter, one S. Hoggart, in the hope he finds it a place in his next selection.

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Sailing by

This one has to be “Home Service”.

Last September Malcolm posted about one of the eternal verities: the BBC’s Shipping Forecast. It received as much response as any of his postings. So, at the weekend, wandering the displays of Heffers Bookshop, it was inevitable that he would pick up Charlie Connelly‘s Attention All Shipping.

Despite all the puffs on the cover and elsewhere (“One of those simple yet brilliant ideas”; “a suitably intelligent and amusing guide”; “witty”; “but my book came out first” …), the joy here is that this is an unbashed bog-book. It is precisely the thing to sit on the window of the downstairs loo, waiting to be picked up in those moments of quiet reflection. It can be read at one extended sitting, but improves with many.

Malcolm does not intend to review the book here: he is into his many sittings. What he wishes to signal is those moments of sheer delight, and occasional doubt.

Item: that

In 1841 Heinrich Hoffmann sat down and wrote ‘Deutschland Űber Alles’ one evening after a day walking on Heligoland.

“So what?” say the ignorati. Well, that means it was composed on British soil, for Heligoland (Sea area: German Bight) was a British possession, a part of the British Isles, from 1807 (when it was nicked from the Danes) until 1890 (when Salisbury did a swap for Zanzibar). And so is explained those stamps, with Victoria’s profile, and inscriptions in German, which so puzzled Malcolm when he found them, at the age of eight.

Connelly never gets to Heligoland, and has to settle for Sylt, which “sounds like someone accidentally swallowing a peach-stone”, instead.

Item: He follows that with a visit to Cromer (Sea area: Humber). Here he largely concerns himself with the life of one man, Henry Blogg, of the Cromer Life Boat.

Blogg was a pin-up (and quite properly so) of the RNLI for decades. Connelly seeks his memorial:
I headed east along the upper path, climbing the steps up the cliff and through a small public garden to find the bust erected in Blogg’s memory. From here, on the top of the cliffs, Blogg looks out to sea just as he did for most of his life, straining his eyes for the faintest hint of humanity in peril. … as I stood with Blogg looking out to sea, the sun burst through the clouds for the first time since I’d arrived in Norfolk…

The plaque beneath the bust details his awards and the bare statistics of his lifeboat career, but at the bottom it proclaims simply in large letters ‘One of the bravest men who ever lived’.

They’re a cynical lot, up along the North Norfolk coast, but there is little criticism of the men (and now the women) who answer the “shouts” at Hunstanton, Wells, Sheringham and Cromer are beyond reproach and innuendo.

Item: When he gets to the Fastnet shipping area, Connelly should have headed west, to Skibbereen or, better, Schull: there to see the Fastnet light winking out across Roaring Water Bay. By missing that sight, he also missed one of the great stories of the Irish War of Independence.

The Tom Barry’s Flying Column in West Cork, which featured in Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, devised a tactic that is still working well today in Basra and Aghanistan: the land-mine. That meant the boys needed supplies of explosive. They learned that there was a stock in the Fastnet Lighthouse. So Rickie Collins of the Goleen Company, who also had served as an attendant on the Rock between 1912 and 1918, proposed a raid. Twelve men took the Máire Cháit out on a June night. At midnight they reached the Rock, and commandeered seventeen boxes of gun-cotton and three boxes of detonators, using the lighthouses own derrick to load them.

In place of that, Connelly choses to concern himself with his family origins in the City of Cork and:

Roy Keane, arguably the most famous Corkman since [Michael] Collins himself …

before viewing the statue of Annie Moore (below, left) at Cobh:

Today Annie and her brothers look out towards the US, where there is an identical statue on Ellis Island looking back at them. The Americans have tried to claim Annie, who had turned fifteen on the day she stepped off the ship, as the personification of the ‘American dream’, as if the young Cork girl had gone to America out of choice and a desire to experience this wonderful land of opportunity. This version of the Annie Moore story is, of course, bollocks. Annie and her two younger brothers travelled to New York in the cramped, oppressive surroundings of steerage class to join their parents who had emigrated with their eldest child, Tom, two years earlier, after their father couldn’t find work in Ireland. Things didn’t go too well in the States either. Unsettled and unable to get work in their new homeland, the Moores moved around, from Brooklyn to Indiana and then on to Texas, where in Waco Annie met Patrick, a fellow Irish émigré, and married him. They had eight childre, of whom three died in infancy before Patrick himself died during an influenza epidemic in 1919. Four years later Annie was hit by a train and died a slow, painful death at the age of forty-six. Rather than the personification of the American dream, Annie’s story is just one of millions like it: desperate people seeking escape from the insufferable hardships of home and finding something, only marginally, if at all, better.

All well and good, except the Annie Moore who arrived at Ellis Island on 1st January 1992 married Joseph Augustus Schayer, who worked at the Fulton Fish Market. After eleven children. her heart failed her in 1923, and she is buried in Calvary Cemetery, in the Borough of Queens. Her statue at Cobh looks wistfully back at the land she is about to leave. The one at Ellis Island (right) is indoors, and by no means “identical”.

By now Malcolm was having some doubts about Connelly: the anecdotes are good, well-told, but the research is lacking. This became clearer, also in Cobh, when Connelly meditated how his own family came from the same quay:

I realised that my own unknown ancestor would have left Ireland through this building, trodden these same falgstones to set in motion the chain of events which had led to me being here now… a Connelly had stepped off a train on this very same platform, nervously clutching a suitcase and feeling completely alone and anonymous … he would have passed into this building presented his boarding card at a window of Deepwater quay, taken one last look at his native Cork and stepped on to a ship bound for England.

Emotive stuff: except that the boats for England left from St Patrick’s Quay and Penrose Quay in the city of Cork. After 1872, the “unknown ancestor” is more likely to have crossed to Milford Haven or Fishguard. That was the young Malcolm’s regular trip, overnight, on the third of the Innisfallens.

Sea Areas Shannon and Malin get short shrift from Connelly. He manages a lot more on Rockall, which he never actually reaches either.

There is an unwritten story still to come of the detail of the way Irish and British interests served each other during the Second World War. The War was unavoidable all along the west coast: corpses were washed ashore too regularly to be ignored.

A lot has been said (and some of it reflected here) about Ireland’s neutrality in “The Emergency” of 1939-45. Yet, the first commercial passenger flight between the USA and Europe was inaugurated on 9th July 1939. Before larger, faster, more economic land-based aircraft took over, via Shannon, Boeing Clippers made 2,097 crossings via Foynes in the Shannon estuary. Military flying boats need to be counted on top of that number: between April 1942 and 1945 Charles Blair alone captained 405 crossings from Foynes to New York for the US Navy. Blair’s achievement in June 1942 was to fly non-stop on that route. It was normal to refuel in Newfoundland, but (as Blair reckoned he still had a 1,000 gallons) he kept going. When he arrived in New York, it was 25 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Foynes, with 95 gallons left. His VIP passenger was Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean, who commented: “Remarkable voyage”. The passage of the great (Eisenhower, Mountbattan, Eden, Eleanor Roosevelt, even Churchill) through Foynes required the blindest eye to be turned.

The big weather story for Malin, though, would be early June 1944: there’s even a plaque. The Irish Meteorological Service was (despite all the insistence on “neutrality”) run as a branch-office of Britain. Communications ran through Shannon.

The crucial decision, taken by Eisenhower, was whether to launch the D-Day landings. There already had been a 24-hour delay, because of a storm coming up the Channel. At 5 a.m. on Monday 5th June, the decision was made to commit to the landings.

The advice that the weather would improve came from Group Captain James Stagg, the meteorologist. His information had started with Ted Sweeney, the Assistant Keeper at the Blacksod Lighthouse (left), south of Belmullet. Apart from Achill Island, just to the south, this is where Europe ends: next landfall, Iceland or Newfoundland.

Round here, wind is the master. Belmullet Golf Course at Carne probably never needs a “closed for bad weather” sign. If you can stand up, it’s playable. If you can’t, grab a tussock and pray. You can also expect a yard and a quarter of rainfall a year: at times it can feel that much by the hour, driving hard off the Atlantic swell.

No: not a review, barely an appreciation, but certainly not any condemnation. Malcolm thanks Mr Connelly for improving the passing toilet-break. There are many worse things in this world.

Addendum:

An important comment and correction came from Patricia Smith DeHesus of the Annie Moore Memorial Project. It is too substantial to be left as a mere optional add-on to Malcolm’s twitterings above:

Here is the true story of Annie and the “American dream”. The real descendants were discovered by a professional genealogist who was doing research for a documentary on Irish immigration, and noted that there was no document research to verify the previous family’s claim to be related to her. She had 10 children, not 11, several died in infancy, only 2 have living families today. Four are buried in her grave along with the child of her friend. While life for Annie was very difficult, she did pave the way for the “American Dream”. Six of her descendants have colleges degrees and own their own homes.

Malcolm applauds the project as another good deed in a naughty world.

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Market rents and cabbage?

When Malcolm last moved house (now thirty years gone) his new neighbour was an elderly lady, whose husband had been in the garment trade. A conversation introduced him to the concept of “cabbage”. He discovered that the norm was for a wholesaler to deliver a quantity of material, and expect it to produce an agreed number of garments. If the manufacturer could cut that cloth economically, and make the number demanded plus a surplus, that extra was the manufacturer’s “cabbage”. It seems a bit dodgy, but it was the understood arrangement.

On a slightly different tack, what totally bewilders Malcolm is that, in the small space that is Northern Ireland, where everybody knows, or knows of everybody else (or goes out of the way to find out), nobody knows the going rate for office space.

Malcolm has already observed that Gregory Campbell’s office in Bushmills Road, Coleraine, at £1,050 a month rent (paid to his wife, who bought the premises for the purpose), must be setting a new high-jump record for office space in that locality. Then there is the on-going mystery of Paisley Inc., in Church Street, Ballymena. Again we find a curious rental deal, with a close relative as the beneficiary.

It is not fair to focus entirely on the DUPpers among us. Others seem to rent office space from nearest-and-dearest, even using sheds in their own back-gardens, among the other brassicas and cash-crops. Yet nobody seems able to put an objective valuation on what these premises are actually worth on the open market, or what is a “fair rent”.

It all whiffs of “cabbage”, or worse.

What gripes Malcolm here is that he knows, the moment he tried a similar trick, it would involve re-assessment for ratable value. Indeed, a whole bureaucracy would descend upon him like the Plagues of Egypt. Everyone would be looking for a share of the cake: the public utilities, the Shops inspectors, environmental health … Uncle Tom Cobley and Tam Pearse’s grey mare. These public representatives are not only immune from such pestilences, but reclaim notional “costs” from the public purse.

In that same post, Malcolm spoke with some respect of Eileen Bell. Ho-hum: what does he now discover? That Mrs Bell, throughout her time as an MLA, employed her husband. Doubtless Mr Derek Bell was an estimable help-mate in those troubled times, and could lick stamps with the best of them. However, it does cast a lurid side-light on Mrs Bell’s assertion that holders of public office:

“should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends” .

All Malcolm can hope is that a new, cleaner, clearer definition of public service (both at Stormont and at Westminster) comes out of this. In which case, “rent” will also apply to those politicians’ garments, as they gnash teeth in despair at their missing bungs, at the lost green stuff.

Addendum:

Be of good cheer, said the Angel, for lo! things could be worse.

And, sure enough, they did get worse.

What has now transpired is thanks to the assiduous digging of one Nevin, who blogs at the North Antrim Local Interest List and is a conscientious contributor to Slugger O’Toole. In the former he dishes the dirt on the ongoing Causeway Visitors’ Centre saga. Now, on the latter, he exposes the Paisley Palazzo (look for posting number 13 on the first page of comments) in Ballymena.

Both cases feature the eternal triangle of the Paisley father-and-son, and the omnipresent Seymour Sweeney.

Those who know Ballymena will be astounded that the Paisley are paying £6,000 a month to rent their office at 9-11 Church Street. That’s the small annual sum of £72,000, and all paid for by the generous tax-payer.

But — paid to whom? The name in the frame flickers between various directors of a shadowy development company, Sarcon 250. These directors have been the pa-in-law of Paisley Junior and Sweeney, who has mortgaged the premises. Then, again, the various changes of directors do not show up in Companies House.

Malcolm therefore chokes on the foul stench of corruption, far worse than any decaying cabbage, refreshed only by the scent of roses from Nevin and his good deeds.

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And , over on our other channel …

There is a significant post on

Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service.

front.jpg

This is the text of a 1948 publication by the Cumann Cuimhneacháin ’98.

It is both a leftist account of the 1798 Rising, and an attempt to place Irish socialism in a cross-community context.

A two-star attraction: worth the detour.

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