Thursday, 3 December 2009

Spare some change sir?

So Royal Bank of Scotland says it needs to grant massive bonuses to its staff in order to attract the best and remain competetive? With the additional twist of the RBS board threatening to resign (or throw all their toys on the floor) if Gordon Brown doesn't give them what they want!

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't these the same bankers who were previously being paid top dollar, along with additional bonuses comparable with other banks? Therefore, the current board cannot deny that pre-crash RBS was certainly competitive relative to other banks. But even with all this they still couldn't keep the bloody bank in the black, let alone give decent returns to shareholders in the longer term. With UK taxpayers as the premier shareholder, Gordon Brown should call the bank's bluff and let them resign and highlight the bankers' attitude for the barefaced cheek that it is.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

In a Fox hole?

The Tories have been masterful is saying absolutely nothing on most major policy ideas. Instead we're left with dribs and drabs and sideways hints at what they will actually do once in power. On the Andrew Marr show today, Liam Fox (Tory shadow spokesman on defence) gave another little insight into the Tory world view when he described Afghanistan as "a broken 13th-century state". True enough, there is a long way to go in Afghanistan, but I'm not sure I want anyone near defence or international relations who is happy to condemn a troubled nation with such a snide, insidious off-the-cuff remark. Britain; you have been warned!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Are the Tories are anti equality?

We all know that the Tories proclaim themselves to be the party of traditional values, but does this mean they are interested in only making retrograde steps when it comes to issues such as gender equality and class divides? A quick look at their proposals regarding tax-breaks for married couples and their views on VAT reveals a shockingly poor understanding of equality issues and makes a mockery of their claims that they will look after the poorest among us.

On tax-breaks for married couples, the Tories are proposing transferable personal tax allowances. This means that where one half of a couple is working, the working half can use the spouses unused tax allowance, thereby increasing take-home pay. This is all fine until the second spouse wants to go to work. If this spouse starts a job earning say £10K, the could find that their take home from this ranges from £5K to as little as £4K, equating to a possible tax of about 60%. In modelling the effects of such changes the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown, unsurprisingly, that this is likely to lead to women being disincentivised from joining the workforce resulting in more women staying at home. Why would anyone be rushing to start a job if the thought they could be taking home only 40% of their pay?

The IFS goes on to show that these changes would be most favourable to wealthy, child-free couples while hitting hardest poorer married couples with children. Not forgetting of course that unmarried couples are indirectly penalised.

As ever, the Tories are reluctant to increase income tax (although not ruling it out). Instead they are planning to increase VAT to around 20%. Of course, this equates to a flat tax and who do flat taxes affect most? That's right, the poor. To be fair, flat-tax systems are known to increase economic output, but the downside is that inequalities are amplified.

So, if you've been thinking, "hey, the Tories aren't so bad" or "that Dave Cameron really does care about the poor", then think again. Even while being cagey about many of their policies the Tories have still managed to publicise the above, which reek of inequality; imagine what they'll do when they get into power and no longer have to worry about scaring the voters.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Beer Man Floor

BrewDog, a brewery in Scotland has developed a new beer, Tokyo*, which weighs in at an eye-watering 18.2% alcohol content. Unsurprisingly, the brewer has come in for a bit of stick from anti alcohol abuse groups who claim that such a drink would encourage binge drinking. Given that each bottle contains 6 units of alcohol, this is not an unreasonable assertion. In a beautiful inversion of logic however, BrewDog argues that this would in fact help combat binge drinking because people would drink it in smaller quantities. Genius! I think this calls for a beer...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The sky is falling!

Anyone else think there has been a curiously high rate of transport-related incidents /accidents/disasters over the last couple of weeks?

These are a few that I've noticed...

Anyone noticed any other incidents? Is this all down to the unseasonal weather across the globe? Or, as many suspect, the product of an elaborate neo-con conspiracy?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A cocktail fit for a recession

You've all heard of a Kir Royal, the refreshing French summer cocktail made by mixing a shot of creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and some fine champagne.

Conscious of the austere times in which we are living, I have developed a recession-proof version of the old French classic. I call it the Kir Fitzroyal. As before, add a shot of creme de cassis to a glass, and instead of topping up with some costly champagne, simply load it up with some of the cheapest, nastiest Spanish cava (or Italian prosecco) you can find in order to complete the beverage.

Those of you in the know will recall that "Fitz" literally means "son of", from the French "fils", which I think works well as a label for our new recession-friendly tipple. I have heard it suggested that Fitz may also have been used to refer to a "royal bastard", but I suspect this may be apocryphal. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know.

Now, all that remains is to grab your drink, sit back on your plastic garden furniture, take a deep breath and relax as you watch the global economy slowly spiral down the plug hole. Cheers!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

One Man

A lot of commentators have pointed out the dangers of pinning all our hopes on Barack Obama. "He's just one man" they chime. "What can one man do?", "One man can't change the world", and so on...

Now perhaps I missed something over the last eight years, but George W. Bush is one man, and held the same office as Obama now occupies. Does anyone deny that George W. Bush has changed the world?

I'm not totally naive regarding Obama's capactity to change things, but if one man can make such massively regressive steps, push science back decades and create a global climate of fear and instability as George Bush, then just maybe one other man can do the exact opposite! Let's at least afford him the opportunity.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Lack of sustainability conference?

The 5th International conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability is a conference which holds no truck with irony or any of its close relations. Picking one of the least accessible countries on the planet, the organisers clearly felt holding the conference in Mauritius would send out a strong message on their attitude towards sustainability in general. And they were right. After all, what's a measly 15-hour flight and a carbon footprint an SUV-driving Sasquatch would be proud of when you can be smug for 3 days at an international sustainability conference?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Not really in the club

A nicely tongue-in-cheek piece of art has been unveiled outside the European Council building in Brussels. In the sculpture (which can be seen here on the BBC website), each EU country is represented from a stereotyped perspective. For example, the large lump that represents France simply has a banner draped over it with the word "Grève", meaning "strike". Germany is represented by a series of large motorways that looks alarmingly like a swastika.

However, the most insulting/apt/incisive representation (depending on your political leanings) is that of Britain, which is simply represented by its absence. I know the phrase is usually "a picture speaks a thousand words", but in this case the lack of a picture speaks even louder.

If Britain needed any further evidence of how it's participation in the EU (or lack thereof) is viewed by its neighbours it need look no further. Since Thatcher's reign, Britain's commitment-phobic approach to the EU angered, aggravated, delayed and annoyed many in the EU. Sooner or later Britain is going to have to make an actual decision on this - is she in or is she out?