Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

Intelligentsia fake news

January 21, 2021

We’ve had four years of hearing about idiots spreading fake news on social media and media generally. This isn’t a great example, but it nicely illustrates the depths that the educated have observed and laughed at:

What, though, I suspect is more insidious and dangerous is the ‘educated’ classes using social media to spread fake news. Of course, they are no more aware it is fake news than what Keynes called the ‘boorish proletariat’. The difference is that the educated, if indeed they are educated, should know better.

If you haven’t seen this viral video about the Pfizer/Moderna Covid vaccine, take a look:

Frightening, isn’t it? It concerned me enough to ask someone who actually knows a lot about DNA whether there is anything to it. Here is what he said:

Introduction:

One aspect I find interesting is that certain types of fake news are actually preferentially spread by more formally educated people. Some of the anti-vaccine stuff may fall into that category. Or a lot of pseudoscience about childcare, for example the disproportionate attention to breast-feeding from mothers of higher socioeconomic status. It seems that spreading pseudoscience can be a reflection of privilege, or almost a status symbol. The other curious aspect is that many people who distribute similar beliefs (e.g. covid / lockdown sceptics) actually pride themselves on their “independent thinking” – based on things they picked up on social media…

 Summary:

In the video, a gentleman sitting at a desk recaps (mostly correctly) the basics of molecular biology and how DNA is translated into proteins using mRNA as a blueprint, and how RNA vaccines use this mechanism to induce an immune response to proteins that have been generated by the cell’s own machinery. Along the way, the presenter seems to have an interest in semantic debates and attempts to redefine the meaning of commonly used technical terms. For instance, he invents his own definition of the term “vaccine” and, somewhat curiously, deduces that RNA vaccines are not vaccines at all. In the end, he concludes with a non sequitur about vaccine risks, which allegedly may arise from RNA vaccines in particular, as opposed to vaccines in general, somehow generating long-term auto-immune reactions – how exactly is not explained.

In short: the video looks like regular social media disinformation.

Explication:

Cells contain a lot of RNA. In fact, there have been major international research efforts to characterise all the many different types of RNA encountered in human cells. The types of RNA found in a cell can be very diverse. Whether all of them serve any specific purpose, or are simply a side product of molecular machinery accidentally producing junk, is often not clear. RNA does not enter the nucleus, where our genetic information is stored. RNA is not DNA, and it does not self-reproduce. RNA molecules are very unstable. (This is the reason the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine needs to be shipped at -70 degrees.) In human cells, the half-life of RNA is estimated to be of the order of minutes, not hours or days or years. It is not obvious how this is meant to induce long term auto-immune reactions against RNA. (Like many vaccines, RNA vaccines can of course induce short-term immediate immune reactions following the vaccination.)

In fact, RNA vaccines are probably just as likely to be safer than traditional vaccines. (Traditional vaccines often contain modified pathogens, where strict quality controls for purity are required to make sure that no live pathogens are introduced into the vaccine. Or they may be using functional but harmless viruses as a carrier vehicle.) RNA vaccines are based on injecting a naturally abundant, incredibly short-lived molecule, which we know will be naturally purged from our body in a very short amount of time.

But ultimately this discussion is academic. Vaccines go through large-scale trials to assess safety and efficacy in practice, as opposed to theory. Covid vaccines have been tested in trials of 10s of thousands of people, which are supervised by regulators and widely published in openly accessible peer reviewed journals [1]. Serious adverse events are rare. They are fully described in the publications, and are typically similar in vaccine and control groups, so likely not related to the vaccine itself. And even if we assumed the extremely unlikely case that all serious adverse events were due to the vaccine, the likelihood of these is clearly an order of magnitude less than the likelihood of the very well characterised real effects of Covid-19, at least for a middle aged male like myself, and much less severe.

If I personally had a choice between RNA vaccines and traditional vaccines, I’d go for the RNA vaccine. They are likely to be as safe or safer, and they may also be more effective in the case of Covid-19 vaccines. In fact, I’d be prepared to pay some money if it meant I could get the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I am not an immunologist, nor involved in vaccine research. However, I am professionally active in the area of genetics and involved in Coronavirus testing and research.

[1] Pifzer vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2034577 ; Moderna vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2035389

Lessons?

It doesn’t matter how educated you are. If you are off-subject, keep your mouth shut unless you have checked your facts and believe there is a demonstrable case that you know what you are talking about.

Otherwise, you are going to get found out, just like Donald J. Trump.

The author of the anti-Pfizer/Moderna vaccine would do well to reflect on the new Sleaford Mods album. In particular, I recommend the tracks Shortcummings and The New Brick.

Essential viewing for Johnson, Hancock and Trump

August 19, 2020

Just in case the leaders of Britain and the United States want to know what competent management of Covid looks like, Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang explains how the island identified the Covid threat early and used, built and modified technical systems to deal with it effectively.

The leaders of Britain and the United States are warned that the content is a bit ‘sciency’ and ‘experty’ and they may find it harder to follow than Love Island. However, it is well worth watching.

Ms Tang’s explication begins at 12 minutes.

She explains the advantages of attentive research and using your brain after minute 14.

She explains the advantages of trusting your population around minute 16.

She explains the advantages of being honest, open and transparent about levels of PPE supply after minute 17.

She explains how to counter idiotic misinformation and establish facts after minute 23.

She talks about data privacy and quarantine monitoring after minute 26. And again at minute 39.

She explains why masks are important and offers to share the technology to make millions of them every day after minute 49. After minute 56 she again stresses the point that masks stop you touching your mouth and nose with potentially infected hands.

She makes several points about false dilemmas that may be presented in relation to Covid after minute 58.

She notes that mainland Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang likely saved the lives of many people in Taiwan (because Taiwan was paying attention) and reminds us that what is most different about Covid-19 is asymptomatic transmission, after minute 63.

As of today, Taiwan has had just 486 recorded cases of Covid and seven deaths. Here are ongoing data.

Unfortunately Ms Tang’s slides do not appear on the video below.

Good luck Boris, Matt and Donald!

Sub-Greece

April 23, 2020

Tony Blair’s ignorance-driven, religion-undergirded arrogance cost many more lives when he backed George W. Bush’s Second Iraq War, but Boris Johnson’s band of chancers is the crappiest British government of my lifetime. Indeed, it would require competence to kill more than the thousands who are dying needlessly in the UK from COVID-19 as a result of this shambolic government’s non-conduct.

One of the more succinct commentaries on the Johnson administration’s performance to date was posted to a Financial Times comments board today in the form of comparative timelines for the UK and Greece:

Greece
24 February: All school trips to Italy cancelled.
26 February: First coronavirus case in Greece, a woman returning from Milan. The school her child attends closes for 14 days.
27 February: Carnival celebrations and international school trips abroad cancelled.
3 March: Schools with pupils who have come into contact with coronavirus patients are closed.
4 March: Schools, sports facilities, theatres and cinemas in affected areas close.
8 March: Conferences and large public gatherings across the country banned, community centres for the elderly closed. Sports events held without spectators.
11 March: All schools, cinemas, theatres, courthouses, gyms and nightclubs close. Independence day parades cancelled.
13 March: Nationwide lockdown implemented. All shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, bars, cinemas, libraries and museums closed. Only essential shops open. Flights to/from Italy stop.
23 March: All non essential travel banned.

UK
January 29: First coronavirus cases in UK, two Chinese visitors staying in York. Heathrow airport screens all arrivals from Wuhan.
March 11: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid goes ahead, with 3,000 fans from Madrid attending.
March 15: The elderly and vulnerable are advised to practise social distancing.
March 16: Boris Johnson advises everyone in the UK to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres, non essential travel and to work from home where possible.
March 16-19: Cheltenham festival goes ahead, with an attendance of 251,684
March 18: Schools close to children of non essential workers.
March 20: All bars, restaurants, cafes and gyms ordered to close.
March 23: Nationwide lockdown implemented.

Greece: lockdown 17 days after first case. Total cases on 23 April: 2,463. Total deaths: 125 (population 11 million).

UK: lockdown 52 days after first case. Total cases on 23 April: 138,078. Total deaths: 18,738 (population 66 million).

Trying to care about Brexit

April 9, 2019

I really have not paid attention to Brexit. It seemed to me as soon as the referendum result came out that one could expend a lot of mental energy to no useful purpose. I don’t watch daytime tv, so I decided not to watch Brexit either.

A few weeks ago, the former prime minister of an African country I am researching asked me what I thought about Brexit. Wanting to shut the conversation down quickly, I said: ‘Well, the population blames the politicians. But a small majority voted for the case put forward by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. And if you vote for clowns, you get a circus. That is all I can see.’

The former prime minister said he liked this analogy so much he was going to use it in debate in his own parliament. I wished him good luck but said I still wouldn’t pay attention to Brexit until it went right down to the wire.

Well, we should be down to the wire, except that we are about to get another extension so the wire is moving again. There is really no excuse for paying attention, but I did today read a short piece of analysis by investment research firm GaveKal’s Charles Gave that is sufficiently big-picture to not be a complete waste of time. Charles is politically to the right of me, but his analysis is almost always astute:

…………..

And the Brexit Winner Is…

By Charles Gave

 

The root of the current Brexit mess in the UK is simple enough. The UK is a parliamentary democracy. But Conservative Party prime minister David Cameron agreed to hold a popular referendum on whether the country should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Inconveniently, the population did not vote as expected by most of members of parliament, some three-quarters of whom supported remaining in the EU. This left the UK facing a constitutional question which has yet to be resolved: Who is the real sovereign power in the UK? The people or parliament?

In line with time-honored tradition, the answer was fudged. A minority government, itself consisting largely of remain-supporting MPs, set out to negotiate a Brexit deal, knowing full well that no genuine Brexit would ever pass through the remain-supporting House of Commons. In short, the solution was to botch the negotiations in an attempt to convince the general public that getting out of Europe was impossible.

This strategy has worked remarkably well to prevent Brexit from happening—which was, of course, its main goal. But it doesn’t seem to satisfy the average voter, and especially not those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. These voters have been left with the distinct impression that they have been taken for a ride by the UK’s political class, and in particular by their representatives in parliament. And the constitutional question remains unanswered, with the average voter convinced that he or she is the real sovereign, not the House of Commons. This leaves three possible outcomes.

1) The leader of another European government—Emmanuel Macron? Matteo Salvini? Viktor Orbán?—decides to put the UK out of its misery, vetoes a further extension of the UK’s EU membership and precipitates a hard Brexit. The hard Brexiteers, embodied by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, get what they want and declare victory. Theresa May steps down as prime minister, and the next general election is fought along traditional lines between the Conservatives and Labour.

2) In the face of opposition from a sizable number of her own MPs, May succeeds in passing a modified version of her withdrawal agreement through the Commons thanks to Labour support. The Conservative Party splits, and the next election is contested by three main parties rather than two: (i) Labour, (ii) remain-supporting Conservatives aligned with the Liberal Democrats (and with Blairite former-Labour centrists) as the party of the men of Davos, and (iii) the hard-Brexit-supporting rump of the Conservative party, aligned with Farage’s Brexit Party and other discontents. Most likely, the Brexit Party would not put up candidates against Brexiteer Conservative MPs, focusing instead on contests against Remainer Conservatives and Labour MPs with leave-voting constituencies. In a first past the post system, the result of such a contest would be highly unpredictable. But either way, Farage’s party would gain a considerable victory, having destroyed the two-party system.

3) May either secures a lengthy extension or revokes Article 50 altogether, and the UK participates in next month’s European Parliament elections. Farage’s Brexit Party fields a full complement of candidates, capitalizing on popular discontent with the political process to win enough seats effectively to confirm the 2016 referendum result (perhaps not as unlikely as it might sound—Farage’s UK Independence Party won the largest share of the UK vote in the 2014 European Parliament election). Such a clear refutation of the government’s Brexit fudge would leave May with no popular mandate, precipitating a general election, which would leave the UK again facing outcome two.

It may seem strange, but the least dangerous of these outcomes both for the EU (and especially France) and for the UK (and especially the Conservatives) is the first scenario. Macron could assume the mantle of Charles de Gaulle, who twice vetoed UK membership of the European Economic Community, and kick the UK out of the EU for her consistent reluctance to play by European—i.e. French—rules. Such decisive action could bolster his party’s support enough to win the May European Parliament election. If so, Macron would likely dissolve France’s National Assembly in the fall and call new legislative elections to restore the legitimacy he lost to the gilets jaunes protests.

In both the second and third scenarios, the Conservative Party is finished, and will split between the hard Brexiteers and the men of Davos. The days when the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Anna Soubry could both find a political home in the same party are over.

I remain convinced that if the UK is indeed expelled from Europe, it will be as much a catastrophe for the world economy as Y2K. Investors should buy sterling aggressively on any subsequent dip, and continue to sell Germany.

If either the second or third scenario unfolds, investors should not leave sizeable amounts of capital at risk in Europe. There is plenty of money to be made elsewhere. The pound would weaken markedly, since in either scenario there would be an appreciable probability that Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister. And as Corbyn’s track record amply demonstrates, once in power he is unlikely to prove much of a friend to investors.

 

The fight against fascism: UK chapter

March 5, 2019

I wonder if we should Crowdfund money for Tommy Robinson to do a really good Research Methodologies Master’s? There is little doubt he is smart enough to get on such a course, which is why he is such a menace. But would he apply himself to the learning?

This from The Guardian:

……

Journalist calls police as Tommy Robinson makes video at his home

Far-right activist and Ukip adviser appears at 11pm and again at 5am in retaliation for delivery of legal letter

Peter Walker and Nazia Parveen

Tue 5 Mar 2019 12.53 GMT Last modified on Tue 5 Mar 2019 13.34 GMT

 

English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London

 

A journalist has made a complaint to police after the far-right activist Tommy Robinson appeared outside his house during the night, repeatedly knocking on the door and windows and demanding to speak to him.

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who is an adviser to the Ukip leader Gerard Batten, filmed himself outside the Luton home of Mike Stuchbery, who often writes about far-right issues.

In the footage, which was live-streamed to the internet, Robinson demanded to speak to Stuchbery, and promised to return again on other nights.

Robinson gave Stuchbery’s street address and threatened to give out the home addresses of other journalists, saying: “I’m going to make a documentary that exposes every single one of you, every single detail about every one of you. Where you live, where you work, everything about you is going to be exposed.”

In a series of tweets sent at the time Stuchbery said he remained in the house and called the police. Robinson went away when officers attended the scene, but according to Stuchbery he then returned at 5am, asking again to be let in.

@MikeStuchbery_
I’ve spent the last few months documenting how ‘Tommy Robinson’ uses doorstepping to intimidate his critics, and how social media giants have enabled it.

So what does he do? Turns up at my house tonight. 1/

Solicitor Tasnime Akunjee said Stuchbery was left shaken following the incident.

He said: “Mr Lennon turned up at Mike Stuchbery’s home address at roughly 11pm and again at 5am. On both occasions he violently banged on Mr Stuchbery’s doors and windows causing alarm and distress to the occupants.”

In a later tweet, Stuchbery said he had made a statement to police, and handed them video and audio footage of the incident.

From comments Robinson made in the stream video, his motivation seems to have been the filing of a legal letter to his family home on Sunday, giving him formal notice of an intended libel action by lawyers representing a Syrian refugee who was allegedly attacked at school.

Stuchbery was among people who helped organise a crowdfund which raised £10,300 to help pay for the legal action against Robinson, founder of the English Defence League anti-Islam street protest group.

Footage of the 15-year-old victim, who can be identified only as Jamal, being pushed to the ground at his Huddersfield school and having water poured on his face attracted widespread condemnation in December.

Hours after the video went viral, Robinson claimed on Facebook that Jamal had previously attacked three schoolgirls and a boy, something denied by the mother of one of the girls allegedly assaulted.

Facebook deleted several of Robinson’s videos for violating community standards after Jamal’s family announced their intention to sue in November.

On Tuesday the page was removed as Robinson was permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech. Facebook said he broke rules that ban public calls for violence against people based on protected characteristics; rules that ban supporting or appearing with organised hate groups; and policies that prevent people from using the site to bully others.

Robinson said by email that the delivery of the letter entailed “intimidating an innocent woman and her children by sending five men with a dog to the house whilst I wasn’t even in the country”. Stuchbery said on Twitter that the letter was handed to a police officer 50m away from Robinson’s property.

In November last year, Batten appointed Robinson as his official adviser on prisons and grooming gangs, seen as part of a wider move of Ukip towards the far right.

The Ukip leader said Robinson, who faces a possible retrial after successfully appealing against a jail term for contempt of court for live-streaming videos to Facebook from outside a grooming gang case, had “great knowledge” about the subjects.

Robinson has been approached for further comment.

 

More on research methodologies / talking shit:

Meanwhile, after the British Prime Minister yesterday said there is ‘no direct correlation’ between police cuts (plus, she seemed to me to imply, austerity more generally)  and the rise in knife crime in the UK…

If you look at the figures, what you see is that there’s no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers. What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice.

… it appears she has taken some advice on research methodologies, data regression, significance at the five-percent level, and so forth.

Today, knife crime was the main subject at a cabinet meeting and the vicar’s daughter plans to get jolly serious about tackling it. She did not, however, make herself available in parliament or to the press.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who in that job tried the no-correlation essay question answer herself — despite leaked documents from her own ministry showing its staff do think there is a link — also seems to have decided it is a 2:2 answer (or worse) and is pretending she never said anything.

From Guardian Live:

Q: What do you think of Theresa May’s comment about there being no direct correlation between police numbers and the incidence of violent crime, given your previous role as home secretary?

Rudd says these crimes are heartbreaking. There are many different elements explaining the increase, she says. She says there have been a lot of new government interventions. She hopes they will make a difference. >

I honestly cannot remember a time in my life when the British police came across as so much more measured and thoughtful than the ruling politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

In Cambridge, friends in Cambridge?

February 26, 2019

If you are in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please come to the first of a series of parties that I am organising to raise money for the homeless. The very first party is this Saturday, 2 March. Bring friends! If you are not in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please encourage anyone you know who is in my part of the world to come along.

You can access the ticketing site directly here.

You can access the Facebook Event page here (please hit the Like and Interested buttons on Facebook whatever else you do or don’t do). Facebook also links to the ticketing.

You can download an e-invite that contains the ticketing URL and a QR code that a phone will scan to take itself directly to the ticketing site from just below these words:

The Heart of Saturday Night Poster 3

According to James Brokenshite, the Conservative housing minister, the increase in homelessness since the Global Financial Crisis has nothing to do with government policy and cuts; instead it reflects an unrelated epidemic of drug taking and family breakdowns. To be fair, Mr Gobshite did subsequently row back on his comments, saying that we ‘need to ask ourselves some very hard questions’ about why the number of homeless has increased so much. Since Mr Brokencountry appears to be intellectually lazy, however, hard questions may be difficult to answer.

Bad week for Brave Dave

April 7, 2016

Ooh, these bloody Panama Papers.

It’s like having Edward Snowden as your next-door neighbour for Brave Dave Cameron, as The Guardian goes to work on his family’s offshore tax arrangements.

I believe there have so far been four, very carefully-worded, separate statements from Downing Street and Cameron himself on the question of offshore family businesses, trusts, and the beneficiaries of these (tabloid list here). Downing Street kicked off with ‘It’s a private matter,’ but that was very quickly kicked into touch. Let’s hope that with this succession of ‘clarifications’ Brave Dave is not heading in the direction of Bill Clinton’s immortal ‘It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.’

Two things so far reported by The Guardian stand out for me.

First, Brave Dave’s old man, Ian, was listed by the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth £10 million. But in 2010, Brave Dave had a publicly declared inheritance from his father’s estate of only £300,000, just under the £325,000 death duties tax threshold. There are four Cameron siblings, so one wonders where the rest of the loot is? Or perhaps what one would like is an explanation as to why there isn’t any more inherited or inheritable loot. Did Ian have a flutter on the horses, perhaps? As The Guardian notes, Brave Dave said in 2012 that he would be willing to publish full details of his tax affairs, and this seems like a jolly good time to do it.

Second, Ian Cameron’s company Blairmore (surely ‘moreBlair’?) was window-shopping offshore financial centres and paying zero UK taxes even as Brave Dave became Conservative Party leader and began to rail about the moral iniquity of not paying tax as you should. See here for a Brave Dave versus Jimmy Carr ‘Whose tax arrangements might turn out to be less funny?’ comparison. The key is whether Brave Dave’s immediate family benefited, or will benefit, in any way, at any time, from Ian’s quite legal but morally unpleasant tax avoidance wheezes.

Poor old Brave Dave. Why isn’t this happening to someone less agreeable? Like Boris. Or the Thin Controller.

Later, more:

Well, just this evening Brave Dave has gone on tv and admitted he’s done a little bit of a porky pie. He sold some shares in moreBlair just before becoming PM for a profit of £19,000. This is the fifth ‘clarification’.

Is it enough to draw a line under the affair? Dave is surely hoping so. But I can’t quite see it myself. £19k doesn’t quite fill the hole on the back of my envelope. Although, it is just an envelope…

Here is The Guardian report.

Friday, 8 April, more:

The Guardian‘s Juliette Garside parses Brave Dave’s television interview of last night, here. See her comments down the right hand side. The trail, me suspects, leads to the sleazy island of Jersey… Odds on Brave Dave resigning have shortened from 20/1 to 11/2. Still a reasonable earner. And tax-free, too. I might send a child in a trench-coat over to the bookies’ to put down a tenner.

5 minutes later:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Odds on Brave Dave going this year are now 5/2

Monday, 11 April:

This is excellent, from today’s Guardian.

Will it be another bad week for Brave Dave? Over the weekend, Downing Street published a short and sanitised introduction to Dave’s tax affairs. Not even worth posting, since it is just spin. The pressure continues to mount for Dave to take his pants off, and reveal the full story. And the Thin Controller is feeling the heat too. The Treasury said last week he would not publish his fiscal break-down. Now Treasury is hinting he might offer up something. And there are loud demands to know who across the entire cabinet has offshore interests.

I feel so sorry for the Tories that I have posted the leaflet of their local council candidate in my house window. No one on my whole road votes Tory to my knowledge. So someone has to stick up for these poor rentiers…

Monday, 11 April, later:

The Thin Controller has published his 2014-15 tax return:

chancellor_tax_return

£3 interest on money in the bank. A timely reminder of how the poor, who have nothing but a little cash in the bank, have been royally screwed by record-low interest rates while the rentier class makes out like bandits from asset appreciation fuelled by cheap debt.

£33k is the Thin Controller’s half-share (wife has the other half) of one year’s rent on his London property.

£44k is dividends from Sloane-apocalypse wallpaper business Osborne and Little.

Effective rate of taxation on the whole lot, earned an unearned (including 120k salary) is 36 percent.

 

And Boris has published his tax summary. Unlike the Thin Controller, he has given us multiple years (what’s going on there, George?).

Boris tax summary

The highlights:

In 2014-15 Boris pulled down £266,000 for his pisspoor Daily Telegraph column. He claims to knock out his columns ‘very fast’ on a Sunday morning, and they certainly read that way. The latest lauds Assad for having saved Palmyra from Isil.

In 2014-15 Boris earned £224,000 in book royalties, reminding us that the British public prefers to read this, when it could be reading this.

Add in the Mayoral salary for London and Boris made, gross £612,583 in 2014-15. Although there is no way he will be elected prime minister, I think he comes out of the this tax return publishing episode better than either Brave Dave or the Thin Controller. No offshore filth. No rentier income, either from bricks and mortar or from daddy’s business. Boris does actually earn his money. Which is why he pays a significantly higher effective rate of taxation than the Thin Controller. Ah, the logic of our times…

The Thin Controller

March 21, 2016

Osborne weight loss

George Osborne, who I used to call The Fat Controller, has become the Thin Controller after eating less and running more. But he is still Sir Topham Hat, insensitive nemesis of poor Thomas the Tank Engine (and all other members of the working classes).

In case you missed the Thin Controller’s latest, last week he decided to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle classes at the same time as chopping a further £4.4 billion over five years from the budget to support disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 370,000 people with a disability would lose an average of £3,500 a year. This comes on the back of an already-implemented big squeeze on various direct and indirect forms of welfare support for the disabled.

Most of the groundswell of anger at the Thin Controller — he has already abandoned the disability benefit cut in a standard ‘oh my god, what have I done this time?’ volte-face  — focused on his increase to the level at which higher earners begin to pay the 40 percent income tax rate. However this change has at least the merit of rewarding middle class work.

What gob-smacked me in the Thin Controller’s budget was the decision to make big cuts to already ridiculously low rates (compared to income tax rates on work) of Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Britain is fast becoming a rentier society, but the Thin Controller’s determination to turn us into some proto-feudal squirearchy seems to know no bounds. He cut the lower band of CGT from 18 percent to 10 percent, and the higher rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

The old rates do remain in force for profits on one’s second, third, fourth and fifth, etc homes (i.e. for non-primary real estate). However the adjustment is a huge bung to the share- and bond-owning leisure class, of which I regard myself as an aspiring member. Thinking today about whether I should not perhaps take the next three months off and go on safari, I decided to check the HM Revenue and Customs web site and learn more about the Thin Controller’s commendable policy to encourage my indolence. Here is what I found:

<Policy objective>

<The government wants to create a strong enterprise and investment culture. Cutting the rates of CGT for most assets is intended to support companies to access the capital they need to expand and create jobs. Retaining the 28% and 18% rates for residential property is intended to provide an incentive for individuals to invest in companies over property.>

This statement has three great qualities. First, it is pure gibberish. Companies (the supposed subject of the second sentence) do not pay CGT, they pay Corporation Tax. Second, it is dishonest. Following from 1., what the Thin Controller really means is that he wants to support the stock-owning rentier class, who don’t need to work because tax rates on passive capital invested in shares and bonds were already low, and are now even lower. Annoyingly, he can’t actually say this, but we know who we are. Third, the statement is misguided. This is because no British rentier with half a brain is going to invest much of their unearned capital in British companies when the Thin Controller has created such an anaemic growth environment. One gives one’s capital to American companies like Apple, Amazon, Skyworks, Gilead, Amtrust Financial Services, American Express, American Tower, Verisk Analytics, and so on. (Disclaimer: oh yes, I own them all.) And then one pays sod all tax to the Thin Controller on the profits. Of course, in the final analysis this doesn’t matter because the Thin Controller doesn’t need the tax because he’s dismantling the welfare state.

Got it?

 

Farage’s forage

December 12, 2014

Having watched the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage deliver his brand of anti-immigration populism on the BBC’s Question Time last night, I keep coming back to these remarkable maps, below.

Voter support for UKIP appears to be almost perfectly correlated with parts of England that contain the lowest proportions of immigrants.

All those shops in UKIP areas of the country that sell flags of St. George should also sell life-size cardboard foreigners so that people have someone to hurl abuse at.

In fact, that is a very good idea for my next business…

 

UKIP support vs net immigration

Joined-up colonialism

December 3, 2014

COUTK 4 COUTK 5

COUTK 3 COUTK 1

COUTK 2 COUTK 6

 

I recently mentioned a compelling new edition of Han Suyin’s beautiful novel And the Rain My Drink, about British conduct in the war against communist insurgency in Malaya after the Second World War.

As luck would have it, writing about British colonial perfidy seems to be the genre du jour, as one of my very favourite journalists, Ed Vulliamy (never met him), files a long investigative report about British conduct in Greece from late 1945 on. It is much the best thing I have read in The Observer for some time, and completely free.

Add a couple more case studies from South Africa, Kenya or Ireland, and we have the beginnings of a joined-up history of British colonialism.

That said, there are marks on both sides of the ledger. As Brave Dave Cameron observed on his visit to India last year: ‘I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British empire did and was responsible for. But of course there were bad events as well as good events. The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate.’

He’s right. The Carry On movies were tremendous, a real boon to my childhood. And It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, not bad either.


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