Category: Politics

Hi Googlebot, please index this page. Christopher David Burrows.

Posted by Philip on April 29th, 2009 — 2:24pm

You may have noticed (or like all of us, not have noticed) that Burr has in fact removed all signs of his existence from mm. I discovered this late last night and quite truly went through an entire spectrum of emotions. Initially, WTF? style shock, leading to forty seconds of worrying that CD has for some reason become suicidal (I shit you not), then sadness, then genuine anger that this was all done without us knowing, and then… a moment of realisation.

I realised that he had removed himself from mm so that when potential future employers google “Christopher Burrows” they will not find this or this. Incidentally they will probably find this. Come on, Burr! What have you got to worry about? Michael has got this and this in the way of successfully bagging a foundation programme. (How many points is being an ex-gay worth in your personal statement, then?)

And besides, it’s not like we’re going to stop talking about you, Christopher David Burrows, twenty-two 22 years old, born in Belfast, went to school at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, studied Financial Economics at Queen’s University Belfast and worked for a year at AIB in Dublin, whose interests include “chilling with his mates”, “having a laugh”, “banter”, and “banging women”.

cd 27-07-2006 00-08-18

Anyway, if Thomas Michael Lowe isn’t worrying yet, then we’re probably all fine.

cd 24-07-2006 21-03-20

2 comments » | General, Internet, NFL, Politics

MPs Expenses and the Budget

Posted by Thomas on April 21st, 2009 — 8:18pm

After a horrible Easter, dominated by the ‘smeargate’ revelations concerning Damien McBride, Derek Draper, and others close to the Prime Minister in Downing Street, the Government has been looking forward to Parliament’s return. This Government has won three elections helped by announcement fever and it hates nothing more than a news cycle it cannot control. The Easter recess was one such news cycle. You can imagine the hundred or so special advisers encamped in the No 10 bunker thanking God (they’ve long lost faith in Gordon) that the Budget was due.

Bad leaks

The Government is trying to regain some control of events. Their new initiative began on Sunday, with the first leaks of the Budget. The Government has slowly leaked almost every conceivable measure included in the 2009 Budget. If the Government were a ship she would no longer be judged seaworthy. The most unpopular measures and announcements were delivered early. First came the Government’s predicted £50 billion write-off of money provided to prop up the banking sector. Then followed the rumours about pensions, with higher-rate taxpayers most likely to feel the pinch as the Government quietly but effectively raises tax on the rich.

Most importantly for the Government and for the future finances of the UK, a further round of leaks suggested that the Government would make £5 billion worth of efficiency savings. This cut in public spending is nothing next to the tax rises that the country can expect in the future, some of which the Government has already announced. But it is a sign of the deterioration in the UK’s finances that a Labour Government has admitted that reigning in public spending is necessary. Though the Government can still not bring itself to talk of cuts but would rather deal in efficiency savings. You can imagine Sir Humphrey chuckling as Darling tells the House tomorrow that the Opposition’s cuts are dangerous for the nation but that the Government’s efficiency gains benefit every citizen.

Good leaks?

The second batch of leaks were not nearly so foul as the initial bundle. The Government intends to extend the stamp duty holiday for properties up to £175,000, in an attempt to stimulate the housing market. The stamp duty holiday should of course be made permanent for sustainable housing projects but a tax holiday is rare for the Treasury to grant so we should be thankful for small mercies. The Budget will also introduce a £1 billion building stimulus, to help the housing sector build sustainable homes by providing credit and financial support. How much of the £1 billion had previously been announced will emerge in the Budget.

The Budget speculation and the subsequent leaks were to be expected. What came as a surprise was the Prime Minister’s announcement on MP expenses.

A Week is a Long Time in Politics

Suddenly, the speculation over the Budget has been sidelines after the Prime Minister made his surprise intervention into the MPs’ expenses row. The Prime Minister was apparently furious that the Government’s efforts to combat the recession and the apparent success of the G20 summit were overshadowed by the expenses row that has engulfed senior ministers like Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty. After promising to meet the leaders of the main opposition parties to consult, there was an expectation that the affair would rumble along until the Committee on Standards in Public Life delivered its report. Now the Prime Minister has pre-empted that discussion and the Committee’s Report.

What is the Prime Minister proposing?

The main headlines will focus on the replacement of the second-home allowance with a flat-rate allowance based on attendance in the House of Commons. This is a similar system to that used in the European Parliament, and was rejected by a committee of MPs last year. The Liberal Democrats have already come out against the proposal, arguing that it amounts to paying MPs for turning up to work, as well as discriminating against those who are genuinely ill or have heavy constituency duties.

For campaigners like the Taxpayers Alliance, the most welco
me sentence in the Government’s statement is that, “there will now be no second home allowance or claims for food, furniture and fittings, fuel, mortgage interest, rent or council tax.” In the coming weeks, the newspapers and new media may well use this phrase as a direct indictment of Jacqui Smith’s conduct and purchasing choices. Opposition parties are less likely to do so because the publication of expenses in the summer will almost certainly bring further disrepute to all members.

Other measures introduced should receive cross-party support. Denying those who live near London the new allowance but allowing them to claim the London supplement will be popular. Taxpayers have been horrified that the rules allow those who live within 10 miles of Westminster to claim a second-home allowance which is much harder to justify than for those who live a number of hours away. The big question mark to be clarified is the Government’s definition of “within reasonable distance of Westminster”.

As with all Government announcements, the devil is in the detail. The Prime Minister’s proposals are reported to include a measure to deny any new allowance to ministers who live in grace and favour homes. Yet the text suggests that this will only apply to those who take up grace and favour homes. One minor improvement on the current situation is that ministers will be expected to pay council tax on grace and favour homes.

Another measure that is likely to find popular support is the idea that MPs staff will be employed directly by the House of Commons. Employment by the House will include control of contracts and salaries, though MPs will retain control of hiring personnel. After the disgraceful actions of Derek Conway MP the public will be glad to see that the House will have the right to make an independent assessment of any contracts.

The proposed changes will have some strong supporters in Northern Ireland. The flat-rate allowance will presumably have a direct effect on Sinn Fein, who refuse to take their seats in Parliament because they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. The Government will review the application of the allowance to Northern Ireland parties.

A Trap?

The Government has laid a couple of traps for the Opposition. The most prominent is for the Conservatives. The headline proposal to introduce a flat-rate attendance allowance may be controversial and may well be completely unworkable. But if the Conservatives reject the plan, or call for substantial revision, as they are entitled to do, the Government will try to suggest that the Opposition is opposed to reform and that, by extension, they have something to hide. The Government is probably hoping that the Conservatives oppose the plans – Brown appears wedded to painting the Conservatives as the ‘do nothing party’.

The second trap is even more blatant. The Government wants all MPs to publish any secondary sources of income, irrespective of whether this income stems from work carried out as an MP. The proposal includes an attempt to introduce a declaration of the hours worked for the payment received. This is clearly designed to embarrass the Conservatives, many of whom have directorships and non-executive roles which may only require attendance at weekly board meetings. While some former Labour ministers have taken on highly-paid consultancy roles, many of these ex-ministers are retiring at the next election and so can argue that they are preparing for life after Parliament.

Second jobs often have a positive effect on MPs knowledge of the country and makes them less likely to unthinkingly tow the party line. An independent source of income reduces the fear of being deselected b y the party and helps MPs to use their judgement. The Government looks like it is trying to taint those with second jobs in an attempt to tarnish MPs of all parties. Perhaps if more Labour ministers had experience outside of journalism, teaching, and unions, the current economic mess could have been avoided.

Reducing trust in elected politicians will only go so far for Labour. And with the threat posed by anti-establishment parties such as the BNP and the far left, the Government should think twice before condemning all MPs to accusations of being on the take. Let’s hope that the Government has thought through its Budget more careful than its plan on MPs expenses.

1 comment » | Politics

Thomas is right… again

Posted by Michael on April 2nd, 2009 — 12:25am

This started off as a comment and turned into a blog.

I haven’t really followed any of this gash so don’t know too much about it, though I have followed the scandal of Jack-Off Smith closely. That’s some comic gold there. What was he watching?

I couldn’t agree with Thomas more that the media’s denigration of MPs has been pretty excessive. And he said to not misinterpret him when he rationalized MPs’ objections. So my criticism is of those MPs, not Tomdom.

I mean, Thomas and I are thinking along the same lines, he said things need to change, implied ministers are in fact culpable to the public who pay their wages etc. It is quite interesting actually. It makes me think about various issues in medicine at the moment and how the defensiveness of ministers is really a bit ironic. To the lament of an entire profession, medics are subjected to continuous, demeaning, time-consuming, costly* and increasingly frequent reviews. Every move of every doctor was already under scrutiny before last August and I can’t imagine what the new legislation will be like when P! and myself qualify.

At least the financial affairs of MPs will be fairly and properly assessed, in comparison to assessment of GPs’ competence by members of the public. The autonomy of GPs is being whittled away across the nation, what with Westminster politicizing medical care at every opportunity, coming up with ingenious gimmicks such as online rating of doctors by patients. But then again, that’s me being a bit fick, innit? It was rather ingenious. A rather ingenious sleight-of-hand that puts the public under the illusion that they have some say in the NHS. But sure. Fair’s fair. MPs are judged every four or five years, why shouldn’t health carers be judged weekly?

Then there was the whole bandwagon about gifts and incentives from drug companies influencing doctors’ clinical decision-making. At least two parties were delighted to fawn over the querulous British public and say how much they agreed with the GMC. It is worrying. I mean, when you have one Symbicort pen all you can think of is getting another one… And another one after that! And another! And another!

But such is the condescending attitude of Westminster. Like Alan Johnson giving doctors and nurses advice on how to recognize dementia so we can actually do stuff about it. That’s pretty embarrassing for me for several reasons:

1) Providing social care for dementia patients alone would cost like double the current budget of the NHS. I didn’t even know we had the money for that…
2) I’m in my fourth year of a medical degree and I thought dementia was incurable…
3) I didn’t even know Alan Johnson had a medical degree.

I guess what I’m trying to say to all those MPs is, “Man up.”

Comment » | General, Politics

I Predict a Lot-of-People-Standing-Around-Not-Doing-Very-Much

Posted by Thomas on April 1st, 2009 — 11:54pm

The G20 summit began today. In London. England. I emphasise this because, according to the Americans, the UK is about the size of Oregon and less important historically to the US than France.

Now, politicians discussing world economic issues is not very entertaining. Imagine the newspapers delight when the police began to ratchet up the tension in the Capital a few days ago. Dead bankers were predicted. People were warned not to wear suits lest they were targetted. The Four Horses of the Apocalypse would ride through London’s streets.

Yet in comparison to the Battle of Seattle or the follow-up bout in Italy, today was quiet. A few anarchist thugs smashed up one of the RBS buildings in the City. A couple of police officers got twatted on the head. And some smart-arse bankers goaded protestors by waving wads of money at them. Most people, Russell Brand included, just stood around outside the Bank of England, not doing very much.

That’s part of the problem – we’re too uncertain and perhaps even polite to host a proper anti-globalisation march. A good smashing up of the City might have proven cathartic. People would feel so much better. Their children could ask them ‘Daddy, what did you do during the Banking Depression?’ and they could honestly answer, ‘Well, dear, I threw some bottles at the police and chanted at them’. If rampant and random destruction was not the aim of the game then those who turned up would have been better off looking for a job to fix our struggling economy.

P.S. those who waved money at the protestors are knobs.

P.P.S. those who caused criminal damage while wearing masks are knobs of pornstar proportions.

1 comment » | Politics

Slap on the wrist, not castration

Posted by Thomas on March 31st, 2009 — 8:49pm

That got your attention didnt it?

In recent days, the misdemeanours of MPs have dominated newspaper and television headlines. First there was the controversy over the second home allowance claimed by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Then were the revelations about the Edinburgh MP caught with his trousers down. Next to step into the spotlight was the unemployment minister, Tony McNulty, who had, it emerged, claimed a second home allowance on his parents’ home, a mere 11 miles from Westminster, and even closer to his constituency home. To top off this string of controversies, the Home Secretary’s husband and parliamentary assistant (who some in the press have now dubbed Jack-Off Smith) was found to have downloaded some rather ‘blue’ movies (hence the nickname).

Trust in MPs has plummeted, when it was already at a low ebb after the disgraceful lies over the Iraq War, the Equitable Life shambles, and the backtracking on the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Throw in the worst recession in decades and the first global contraction in GDP since World War 2 and you can see why politicians currently have about as good a press as Lucifer had when he suggested that God might want to reconsider denying humanity knowledge.

Now please do not misunderstand what follows. I entirely agree that many politicians have had their snouts in the trough. In the good years, when the economy was booming, politicians shared in the growth. Their salaries dwarf those of their constituents. Their holidays are as generous as those enjoyed by teachers. But the recent hysteria has been completely out of proportion.

The newspapers are mostly to blame. Some journalists have a poor grasp on basic arithmetic and seem to fail to understand what MPs allowances actually pay for. MPs have generous allowances but to claim that these are part of their salary, as the Mirror and Sun did today, is plain daft. An MP has two or three members of full-time staff. Staff are paid for from the MP’s staffing allowance. An MP sends out many letters on parliamentary paper and in parliamentary envelopes. Such office costs are paid for from the MP’s stationary allowance.

Well over two-thirds of most MPs allowances are claimed for basic administration. To include MPs staffing allowances in calculations of their allowance claims as though it was part of some inherent greed is like condemning the chief executive of a business for paying for his secretary through the company.

People are scared by the current economic news (again, not helped by the hysterical reporting of Sky and the BBC). They are angry that the good times have stopped and want someone to blame. The excesses of the banking sector make them an easy target. The ineffectuality of MPs at dealing with the recession has led to anger being redirected at them.

Reform of the system is needed. The rules over second home allowances and MPs travel costs need to be overhauled. But MPs need to be able to do their jobs of representing their constituents and holding the Government to account. If we listen to the cries of the media and the phone-ins, then we’ll be in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Or opting for castration rather than warning that it makes you blind.

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