Tag Archive | "power to the people"

MPs’ Expenses: Sorry doesn’t cut it!

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MPs’ Expenses: Sorry doesn’t cut it!


Most MP’s appear to believe that they have nothing to apologise for because, so far as they are concerned, they acted within the rules and their expenses and/or allowances were paid by the Fees Office. Some, on the other hand have said sorry, not for the wholesale abuse of the system, but for individual expense claims which they think we will find indefensible. An even smaller number believe it is okay if they say sorry and reimburse the public purse. Well for me, that just doesn’t cut it. Do they think that the public is so shallow, so in awe of MP’s and so battered by circumstance that they will simple forgive and forget? I think not!

MP’s are in a position of trust, invariably they are elected based on promises made to the electorate and/or party manifesto commitments. Not only are the public entitled to expect the highest levels of probity, but they are also entitled to presume that members of parliament have a fully operational moral compass, in respect of their personal life and, above all in relation to their dealings in public office. In spite of this, many MP’s have actively milked an expense and allowance system for their personal gain, even though, a good number of them have variously described it as in desperate need of reform, open to abuse, or open to interpretation. Some have implied or stated that they felt the allowances were a right, given the salaries were, in their opinion, comparatively poor. MP’s have argued that the public would not accept higher salaries, therefore a flexible approach to allowances and expenses made up the shortfall. Did none of these MP’s consider this solution to be at best, immoral and at worst, dishonest?

One of the problems with MP’s salaries is the fact that MP’s have an exagagerated opinion of their abilities and value, at least, they place a much higher value on themselves than the public does. Why is that I wonder? Could it be, for example, that they surround themselves with flunkies, yes men and people that routinely blow hot air up their backsides? Perhaps, it is because becoming an MP is a virtual closed-shop. The reality is, that the best chance of being elected is to be adopted by one of the main parties, to do that, you have to come from a very small pool of candidates, perhaps a local councillor, a school friend of the leader, a friendly journalist, a union leader, a lobbyist or party activist, come gofer. As a consequence, real world experience is limited, both in terms of business and life experience, which probably explains why so many MP’s appear out of touch with real people and incapable of handling portfolios either in government or as a shadow ministers. Is it, therefore, any wonder that the public believe MP’s are already overpaid?

This is even more evident right now, by virtue of the fact that Gordon Brown has such a limited pool of ‘bright’ MP’s, that he has to make do with the best of the bunch. Not great when you are supposed to be running one of the biggest economies in the world! I would have no problem with MP’s being paid more, but based on the current crop, that would be ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with paying more in order that you can attract the brightest stars to politics, but no-one will want to pay for when all we get are the also-rans! In my view, the way candidates for chosen is akin to going to a small town job centre and expecting to find the best qualified people in the country. It just ain’t going to happen and, as a direct consequence, we end up getting served by MP’s that would be lucky to get a middle managers job, much less responsibility for thousands of staff and multi-billion pound budgets. To emphasis this point, we have a former postman in charge of the Health Service, the third largest employer in the world and a former teacher in charge of the Home Office. What a complete and utter mess!

Of course, whilst MP’s will complain that there £64k salary is too low, those with additional responsibilities will receive much more, for example, a cabinet minister will be on over £140k, but that has not stopped them from continuing to milk the system. Because, I assume, by the time they become a minister, with the higher salary and all the additional benefits, their moral compass is so damaged, that they no longer see right from wrong. Not a good thing when they are overseeing departments with multi-billion pound budgets. I am not suggesting any form of wrongdoing, but surely, the public has a right to wonder whether MP’s and Ministers that actively milk a system that, by their own admission is “flawed”, can be trusted to make the right decisions, for the right reasons.

It is not just the expense system that needs reforming, it is the whole system, from how candidates are selected, to how MP’s are promoted into senior positions. Much of it defies logic, lacks transparency and leaves a large question mark over objectivity. The initial candidate selection procedure for example, does not ensure that we get the ‘best of the best’, therefore, if the candidates are eventually elected, they cannot and should not expect salaries comparable with the private sector where there is a true meritocracy, not cronyism. In reality, we end up with Ministers getting paid to learn on the job, even though they have little or no experience of a particular role, that would never happen in the private sector. Little wonder then, that we end up paying £billions to outside consultants, the public end up paying twice and through the nose, because of the recruitment policies of the main parties.

Lets look at the logic for the moment shall we? David Cameron says that the Conservatives are “ready for government“. Okay, then the public is entitled to know who he intends to put in the ‘top’ positions of government and precisely what skills they have to qualify them to run these massive departments. He will not of course, because he doesn’t want us to know what he knows already, that few, if any, of his crop of MP’s have any relevant experience. How many health professionals does he have? How many business leaders? How many teaching professionals? How many economic experts? How many security professionals? Ready for government? If it wasn’t so serious, it would be a joke, the Conservative party may be more principled that New Labour, which wouldn’t be difficult, but ready for government? No chance and the same goes for the Liberal Democrats! Once again, the public will be obliged to accept that we have rank amateurs running our country, our economy and our enormous public sector departments.

If you were to put all of the parties together, I doubt we would be able to find enough suitably experienced candidates, with the necessary depth and knowledge, to run even half of our key departments. That is normal, but it also shocking, because every party tries to convince us that they are modern, forward thinking and up to the job, yet their candidate recruitment process belongs firmly in the dark ages. If this country is to get itself out of the mess that our politicians have been responsible for or complicit in, then there needs to be complete reform.

  • This must include a review of their candidate selection procedures to ensure that they have a good choice of suitably experienced MP’s should they be elected to govern.
  • Strict rules on probity. If an MP or Minister loses the trust and confidence of the electorate, then they must resign their seat and a by-election called.
  • MP’s must accept that they are no longer entitled to self-regulation, nor are they to be permitted to exempt themselves from the same laws that the public must accept.
  • If a political governing party refuses to deliver on any manifesto promise then the the party leader must take full responsibility and resign, then an election must be called. – A manifesto is, of course, a contractual commitment to the people of this country, not an advertising gimmick.
  • The Prime Minister and other Ministers shall be obliged to answer all questions put to them by other Members of Parliament. No Minister shall be allowed to side-step direct questions as frequently happens during PMQ’s.
  • MP’s expense claims must first be approved by their party leaders, before they are submitted to the Fees Office. Expense claims must also be subject to independent and regular audit. False or misleading claims must lead to the automatic dismissal of the MP concerned. In other words, the party whip must be withdrawn, the MP banned from the Commons, and a by-election called.
  • MP’s must lose the entitlement to have themselves referred to as ‘Honourable’ or ‘Right Honourable’ given this implies that they are better than the people they serve and it is automatic, rather than earned. As such, it is meaningless and must therefore, be withdrawn.
  • MP’s must publish their diaries. This need not be detailed, but must include enough information for their constituents to be able to judge how much time each MP’s spends in the house of commons, within their constituency and talking to their constituents. Similarly, it will provide details on when MP’s are in London and whether they are on parliamentary or personal business. All MP’s shall be obliged to publish how many ‘junkets’ they go on each year, including the purpose, duration, cost and who paid.
  • Only Members of Parliament must be permitted to hold Ministerial posts, ensuring that they remain accountable. Peerages must no longer be used as quick method to place an unelected individual into a Ministerial post.
  • Ministers who deliberately mislead parliament are subject to sanction. The same should apply to any Minister that seeks to mislead the public, whether inside or outside parliament.
  • The public must be provided with a method of calling an early election if they lose trust and confidence in the governing party. This could be done by allowing the public to register their ‘satisfaction’ with the governing party once a year, using postal and/or  an internet based voting forum. If the governing party falls below an agreed percentage, then parliament must be dissolved. This would act as a deterrent to governing parties becoming authoritarian, complacent and indifferent to public opinion…as is the case with the current government. Power must be returned to the people if democracy is to survive.
  • When party Manifesto’s are used in an election campaign, voters must be provided with the ability to vote for, or against, each Manifesto commitment. This is to ensure that the public are not ‘bounced’ into agreeing unwelcome policies that are hidden amongst more populist commitments. Therefore, for practical reasons, Manifesto commitments must be limited to a maximum of 10.
  • Parliament must agree to limit the number of new laws drafted each year to allow members of parliament sufficient time to read and digest the content. Since 1997, New Labour have introduced a record 3607 new laws, many are detrimental to the public interest, yet in many cases, were not even debated. Parliament must limit the number of new laws to a maximum of 200 during any Government term.
  • News laws are now routinely introduced (or more accurately hidden) within legislation which has little or nothing to do with the subject matter. These are often laws that are likely to be the most contentious, politicians of all parties must agree to cease this practice forthwith. If a new law is required, then it must be open to scrutiny and debated.
  • Any new legislation or draft law which affects the fundamental liberty, freedoms or right to privacy of the public and has not been include as a manifesto commitment, must be subject to a referendum. The people, not government, must determine if they are prepared to sacrifice long held freedoms, liberty and privacy rights in favour of government assurances of safety and security.  It is not acceptable that any government with a large majority use this powerful position to introduce laws which increase the powers of the state at the expense of the public at large.

In summary, public concern is not so much about the money that MP’s have been pocketing. But the moral compass of any elected official that believed he or she should be entitled to supplement their income through the backdoor by deliberately introducing a ‘flexible’  and generous expense and allowance scheme. By their own admission, this was to avoid the furore that would have been caused if MP’s had sought to increase their salaries, in other words, it was very deliberately deceitful. The public is further angered by the fact that public money was then used to try and prevent the people of this country having access to this information, which amounts to little short of an attempt to cover up malpractice.

However, even before the expense scandal, the public were becoming increasingly disillusioned with politicians in general and this government in particular. This was because politicians appeared ever more detached from reality, unwilling to engage and government had become increasingly more authoritarian. Opposition MP’s did little to combat this attack on the people of this country and that further damaged the confidence of the British public in our political system and members of parliament. It was clear, to anyone looking, that politicians were becoming (indeed are) less and less accountable to the people of this country.

Moreover, politicians of all parties started to deny that they were there to serve the public, some quite openly on their blogs. To reinforce who was boss, this particular government introduced a raft of new legislation that resulted in long held civil liberties and freedoms being denied to the people of this country. The opposition parties did little or nothing to stop this government, and all of a sudden, the people of this country started to feel crushed, hemmed in and unable to do anything about what was happening as politicians increased the divide.

Then came the so called ‘bust’, followed by a recession. But, instead of taking responsibility, the former chancellor and then prime minister blamed anyone and everyone. This was compounded by the fact that his ministers, rather than having the backbone to stand up to him, just tried to continue the myth. Many of them manipulating numbers, statistics or other facts to confuse the picture and divert attention. The PM and Ministers were so far up their own backsides that they thought we would all fall for it, that is the level of contempt they had (and have) for the public. They were arrogant instead of contrite.  

With the economic crisis and lack of public confidence in members of parliament and government ministers, politicians on all sides, I believe, realised that the vast majority of them were out of their depth. When boom ended, few of them had any idea what to do and this is what became self-evident to those outside the Westminster village, but denied by those in power. All of a sudden, the fact that the ‘gene pool’ was so limited meant that there was no ‘experts’ to turn to within their own ranks. The Expense scandal is a culmination of all these things.

Politicians must now realise that their recruitment model is broken, their promotion model (based on cronyism rather than merit) is broken, their moral compass is broken, their reputation for probity is in tatters, the gulf between them and the people they are supposed to represent is wider than the Atlantic, their lack of humility is self-evident, their authoritarian approach is resented by all, their spin doctor messages so old as to be almost predictable and the people, in spite of having their liberties, freedoms and right to privacy destroyed in a little over a decade have had enough and are fighting back. Politicians of all parties would do well to listen. They rule by consent, not as a right. The public could scupper all of their plans by simply voting for fringe parties, it may not give is a joined up government, but lets be honest, we haven’t had one of those for generations!

It is worthwhile checking out this article on MP’s Expense Claims!

Posted in Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems, World | Comments (3)

Jacqui Smith wants your DNA, innocent or guilty

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Jacqui Smith wants your DNA, innocent or guilty


The Home Office has outlined a series of proposals in relation to the DNA database designed to counter the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it was illegal. However, in doing so, they have demonstrated utter contempt for the ruling, choosing instead to go for a fudge. If these proposals are put into force, it will inevitably lead to further legal challenges in the European Court by Human Rights campaigners.

The Home Office consultation proposes the following:

  • Destroying all original DNA samples, like mouth swabs, as soon as they are converted into a digital database profile
  • Automatically deleting after 12 years the profiles of those arrested but not convicted of a serious violent or sexual crime
  • Automatically deleting after six years the profiles of anyone arrested but not convicted of other offences
  • Retaining indefinitely the DNA profiles and fingerprints of anyone convicted of a recordable offence
  • Remove the profiles of young people arrested but not convicted, or convicted of less serious offences, when they turn 18

The bottom line, is that even in Big Brother Britain, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. It is, therefore, unreasonable in the extreme for DNA samples to be retained where individuals have been arrested, but not convicted, or arrested but not even charged. By retaining the samples, the Home Office is suggesting, by implication, that the individual may commit an offence in the future. Under these proposals, if the Home Office want to increase the size of the database, all they have to do is encourage the Police to arrest more people, the Police will then be entitled to take, record and retain a DNA sample.  How long before the Police are targeted on the taking of DNA samples?

Clearly DNA evidence can be very useful in solving crimes. However, this must be weighed against the infringement on the civil liberties of the majority. We are all entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. We must not permit the state to use this ‘back door’ method of arrest without charge to increase the size of the DNA database.  It is also worth noting that the Home Office is proposing that DNA samples be retained indefinitely for what is termed a recordable offence. But these offences can vary from the public order offence of failing to give notice of a procession and, for example, drunkeness, public order, begging  right through to having a bladed weapon or crossbow in public.  In fact, making a hoax 999 call or falsely claiming a professional qualification are all recordable crimes. How can such a broad range of offences brought under the innocuously sounding term ‘recordable offence’ be considered proportionate, especially given any of these offences would mean that your DNA is on file for life under the current proposals.

Whatever your view on Big Brother Britain and the DNA database, we must all remind ourselves, that in 12 years, this government has introduced 3,607 new laws, in other words, a month doesn’t go by without there bing new laws that we are supposed to know and not infringe. If this continues, it is only a matter of time before we all find ourselves on the national DNA database. No government in the world has considered it necessary or desirable to have so many of their citizens recorded on a DNA database. In fact the UK has the largest database in the world, now ask yourself this, do we all feel safer, do we have a higher detection and conviction rate when compared to comparable countries? NO! Because if we did, you can be certain that the Home Office would have told us.

We must say no to this massive intrusion into our everyday lives.

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (5)

Budget 2009: Return of Old Labour

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Budget 2009: Return of Old Labour


Far be it for me to defend the so called “rich”, but I would like to make some pertinent points in relation to this governments’ decision to increase taxes on those earning over £100,000 and £150,000.

First if all, I am at a loss as to how anyone can describe someone that earns over £100,000 as ‘rich’, take a look at any of the newspapers that still have jobs advertised and you will see countless middle management jobs and sales positions which offer earnings of around £100k, including bonuses or commission. So, these are not all city bankers, many of them may be your next door neighbours, or perhaps your boss. These are people that have almost certainly earned their positions through merit, not spongers or low-lifes! Yet, when our members of parliament refer to them, it is as if they are the great unwashed. Yet many of these people are creating jobs for the rest of us, should they really be treated with such contempt and disdain?

When people stay on in further education, this is invariably because they want to maximise their chances of doing well in the workplace, because they want to aspire to be successful, in terms of position and earnings. Are those that are successful to be judged as one of the great unwashed if they succeed in earning over £100,000 per year? One of the things that I am always hearing is that those that earn more should pay more. I agree, but they already do, taxes are paid in cash terms, not percentages. Take an average person earning £25,000 per year, they will pay £5945 in tax and national insurance every year. They will also, most likely, be entitled to additional tax credits and other benefits which will further reduce their net contribution in taxes.

Now, lets take someone earning £113,000, this is the level at which the individual will lose all of his or her entitlement to a personal allowance. As a consequence, their net tax contribution will be £40,362 (rising to £43,304 from next year), which is between 6.8 and 7.3 times more tax that Mr and Mrs Average. Or to put is another way, in percentage terms, they will be paying twice as much as the average wage earner (38% instead of 17.7%). Yet, they will not be entitled to any tax credits or other benefits. It is also likely, that someone at this level will receive ‘private health insurance’. However, even though this reduces the burden on the state system, the individuals will actually be taxed on the cost of private health, as a ‘benefit in kind’. For anyone that things this is a perk, they need to be reminded that this ‘benefit’ is not provided because the employer is feeling benevolent, but because they need their employee back to work as quickly as possible.

It is all very well deriding those people that have achieved success in their careers, but it is also worth remembering that these same people provide the exchequor with the same amount of net tax as 7 people on average earnings. Yet, they do not get seven times more pension, nor do they get seen by their doctors seven times faster, instead they are actively and unfairly targeted for yet more money. They are not rich, they are successful, they are achievers and this country would be a much poorer place economically, commercially and intelectually if we did not have people like this. Take a look at what ‘brain drain’ has done to some African countries where their skilled people left in droves following a change of government, some have never recovered, do we really want that here?

I dislike envy, as much as I hate greed, both are destructive in their own way. In the USA, they have always heralded success, placed people that have achived on a pedestal, here, we invariably look on with contempt. The politics of envy assume that these people have got ‘rich’ at the expense of their employees, rather than accepting that they are more likely to have been directly or indirectly responsible for creating jobs and wealth. I remember one of my former bosses saying that he never had a problem paying out large commission cheques to sales people, because it meant they were generating business, profit and security for the company and its employees.

There is a very real risk that, by removing all personal allowances for those earning £113,000 or more and, increasing income tax to 50% for earnings in excess of £150,000, many successful people will look to take thier skills, trade, entrepreneurship and money elsewhere. There simply has to be a limit to what they will accept. If they do leave, how many jobs will be lost as a result of the skills shortage? White collar workers are no less skilled in their trade as, for example, an electrician, coach builder or car worker. Anyone who suggests otherwise is naive. If these successful people spend their money in other countries, how many jobs will be lost as a consequence of the comparitive downturn in sales?

I believe taxation must be fair and equitable. From a moral perspective, it is okay to say those that earn more, must pay more. But it is not acceptable to state that those that earn more must also be hit with a penal rate of tax as if they were not part of the human race. Remember, many are already contibuting in cash terms, more than 7 times as much as the average worker. This country is in a mess and we will all have to accept that public services will have to be cut and taxes will have to rise, but it is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong to target one section of the workforce for special treatment in the form of penal tax rises. Especially when so many companies and genuinley rich people are still using loopholes to avoid paying income or corporation tax.

I know that my comments will annoy many who are struggling to pay their mortgages, it will also irritate some that believe people who have been successful in their careers are not deserving of higher salaries, but this country needs achievers and to keep them, we must reward them. With the exception of bankers and the public sector, I don’t know of any business that will pay more than an employee is worth, nor a company that would be prepared to keep someone on that was not delivering results. If they are paying their taxes, even if this is as much as seven times that contributed by the average worker and then spending the money in our country, why should so many people judge them so harshly. These people also have mortgages and commitments, the only difference is scale.

I do not earn over £100,000 per annum, but my sense of fairness is what motivated me to write this post, plus I suspected that those that do earn over £100k would be roundly condemned. I am unusually indifferent to those that disagree with me on this issue because I have seen first hand what happens when countries start to lose key skills in what has been dubbed a ‘brain drain’. The country, the economy and the people all suffer in equal measure.

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (7)

George Osborne outlines spending priorities

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George Osborne outlines spending priorities


Not before time George Osborne has outlined what the spending priorities will be if the Conservatives win at the next election. Although in traditional Tory style, his comments lacked any detail, but there there was at least a clear statement of intent, one which I could subscribe to. He said that The Conservative party will prioritise spending cuts rather than tax rises to address the atrocious state of the public finances. George Osborne said “You don’t want to kill off the recovery with heavy tax rises that bring you back to square one.”

Osborne stated that health, schools, defence and international development would be protected from cuts in 2009/10, but beyond that, would only commit to real term increases in health and to match Labour’s commitment on overseas aid of 0.7% of GDP. These cuts are likely to amount to £5bn, not nearly enough, but it is a start. For me there are a number of positive aspect to this statement which I find encouraging.

A politician has finally understood that you cannot simply take the easy way out every time their is a funding gap and fleece the already hard-pressed taxpayer. The Conservatives have made a great play of all the stealth taxes we have had to endure over the past 11 years as well as the increased tax burden. To then add to it, whatever the economic circumstances, would be hypocritical, at least until they have exhausted all other options. There is a huge amount of waste and excess in the public sector and it needs to be brought under control. Personally I believe a saving of £5bn is small beer and this could be much higher, without necessarily impacting on front line services.

I am also encouraged that the Conservative’s are finally willing to open themselves up for Labour party attacks along the lines of “a vote for the Conservative Party will lead to public sector cuts”. Anyone with an ounce of commonsense will know that our current public sector investment is unsustainable, it would have been if there had been no economic downturn, so it sure as hell is now. Increasing taxes will mean there is less money in the economy and therefore it will take much longer to come out of this recession. The best fiscal stimulus in a natural one and that is by allowing people to keep more of the money they earn, not less.

Labour jibes that a vote for the Conservatives will lead to cuts in schools and health are designed to be emotive, but it is clear that the current spending is not sustainable in the short or medium term and, deep down, the electorate knows that. No matter what party is in government, real term cuts are inevitable.

The voters of this country are also shoppers and they know that when times are hard, they have to make their money stretch further, this means cuts in non-essentials, reducing debt and making every penny count. They know that if they are prepared to shop around, money can be saved without necessarily compromising quality, for example buying supermarkets own label products, frequenting discount stores, utlising the intenet to research prices etc. This is because most people do not have the luxury of boosting their income by simply helping themselves to someone else’s money, as is common with governments when they get their sums wrong. The taxpayer always has and I suspect always will be the easiest target for spendthrift governments such as New Labour.

I am also heartened that the Conservatives are prepared to take a position and then defend it. So far they have promised to fix our ‘broken society” and as we all know that is an intangible that they couldn’t be accurately measured on. But a commitment to cut wasteful and excessive public spending is tangible, we will be able to judge them on their deeds, not their words. In fact, the Conservative party, if true to their word, is at risk of becoming a party of conviction and in my view at least, that makes them more electable. I would like to see George Osborne and his team put more work into this commitment and identify some of the areas where they will make cuts….yes, I say cuts, because we will inevitably have to make cuts in real terms. They could make a start with the £20bn a year that the Labour party have committed to spend on new databases that achieve nothing other than infringe the civil liberties of the people of this country, then move on to complete a wholesale review of the unfunded public sector pension schemes which are crippling the public sector finances. For example, it was reported last week that 20p in every £ collected in Council Tax, goes directly towards paying local government pensions.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the vast majority of our taxes go to support or subsidise those less fortunate, therefore, £1 in tax does not mean £1 in benefit to the taxpayer, as all government’s past and present would us believe. And, to help those less fortunate than the majority (soon to become the minority), we need an army of civil servants, many of whom are now better paid than the private sector and have much better pension schemes.

My best guess is that for every £ paid in tax, the average taxpayer will receive no more than 20p in benefits, now that IS a number the Tax Payers Alliance should try and calculate. The bottom line is we, as taxpayers, must insist that we get value for money. If my estimate is right, then for every pound that is taken from us, we get only 20p of value, is there any justice in that. I think not, it is taking social responsibility too far and I suspect that if the true number was ever published, there would be a massive backlash from the taxpayer. 

This is only one solid policy statement offered by the Conservative party that I fully concur with, I hope that in the coming months, we will have more sensible, tangible and worthwhile policy commitments. You never know, they may actually become a party that is worthy of our vote, rather than one which wins the election as a consequence of the electorate voting against New Labour, rather than for the Conservatives.

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (3)

Government to spend over £100bn on spy databases

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Government to spend over £100bn on spy databases


In another example of this government paying lip service to the rights and freedoms of the individual, The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, suggests that some 25% of government databases are actually illegal, either under Human Right Legislation or the Data Protection Act. As you would expect from a government that has slowly eroded our liberty and privacy, there is no apology or commitment to put things right, instead we are expected to accept a bland statement as follows: “It takes its responsibilities seriously and will consider any concerns carefully, adapting existing safeguards where necessary.” Take the rebuke the government received in December from the European Courts, in relation to the DNA database, have they done anything about it? No! In fact, the government doesn’t even know how many databases they have!

This year the government will spend £16bn on databases and they are committed to spend a further £105bn over the next 5 years. Has no-one reminded them that there is a deep recession going on? This government has indicated that it will have to raise taxes to balance the books, this includes increasing national insurance by 0.5%, raising income tax to 45% for those earning over £150k and an increase in VAT to 18.5%. This is in addition to the double whammy on fuel duties as a consequence of the fuel escalator and the shafting we were given when this government adjusted the fuel duty to take eliminate the “benefit” of the reduction in VAT to 15%. They will now gain that money back when they increase VAT back to 17.5%, because the duties will not be adjusted.

We are expected to pay additional taxes to this pathetic administration at a time when we must all trim back our costs whilst the government are continuing to spend £billions on unnecessary databases which only service to destroy individual civil liberties and right to privacy. It is the state gone mad. Take one of ‘their’ databases, Onset, this is a profiling tool which examines a child’s behaviour and social background to identify potential child offenders. What? They are now going to use information from ContactPoint and then profile it to work out who tomorrow’s criminal are likely to be. How long do you think it will be before they are using all of the data gathered from the various databases to work out how adults might behave? One thing they do not need a database for is to profile an MP’s likelihood to maximise their expenses, quoting their adherence to the rules, rather than the spirit of the arrangement. It doesn’t bear close scrutiny, yet their couldn’t give a toss what we think, so long as they have claimed as much as they can, without breaking the rules.

But, don’t think that the Conservative Party will do anything to redress these massive state powers that have been ceded to ministers through the introduction of ever more draconian legislation, the Conservatives have said virtually nothing. Cameron hasn’t got the backbone to deal with this issue, no he prefers to talk about “social cohesion” and tell us that we must all accept higher taxes, even though he doesn’t know how much money he could save by curbing public sector excess and waste. Gordon Brown maybe deluded and an idiot, but Cameron is also demonstrating that he is a bit of a prat, because he can’t see how angry the people of this country are, not just with the government, but the opposition who have sat idly by and allowed it to happen.

The reality is the majority of the people in this country are so complacent, they haven’t got a clue that this massive land grab of state power will affect each and everyone of us in the future, irrespective of whether we have done anything wrong. This is so clearly not about fighting crime and terrorism and anyone that believes otherwise is at best, naive and more likely, plain stupid.  No government will ever hand these powers back, so unless we start to fight back now, we will have to accept that each and EVERY aspect of our lives will be recorded and monitored. That is not a free democracy, it is a police state. Me, well quite frankly, I have had enough!

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (6)

Travel database and Government spin

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Travel database and Government spin


Whatever the government tries to tell us, the new travel database has little to do with securing our borders and more to do with controlling and monitoring the activities or each and every British citizen. In fact, with the new telecommunications database, which will monitor every email, text message and mobile phone call, this governments access to our personal data will be akin to a prisoner having a tag fitted, except, it will be on 61m people.

For those that believe the travel database won’t affect them, then think again, as many as 1800 government and private agencies will have access to our personal travel details. Anyone that believes this information will only be used by government agencies with responsibility for border controls is at best naive. Let me give you a couple of examples of what this information could be used for.

If you have children of school age and decide to take them out a week before their school break to save money for your annual holidays, then you should be aware that the travel arrangements will be recorded. The school could then, theoretically at least, access this information and commence proceedings against the parents. Yes, you can argue parents shouldn’t do this, but it is worth nothing that as many as one third of all parents do.

Suppose you regularly go abroad for your booze and fags, these journeys will now be recorded, as will your luggage. As a consequence, if the HMRC deem that you go too often they could seize the goods, seize your vehicle, fine you, prosecute, you or all four!

Maybe you earn air miles as a result of your business or work. If you use air miles or some other voucher to pay for a personal flight, then this will be recorded. How long do you think it will be before the HMRC cotton on to this and send you a bill for this ‘benefit in kind’?

Perhaps you are lucky enough to win an incentive from your company which includes overseas travel or, maybe you have been invited by a supplier for a conference or the like. Strictly speaking, you should ascertain whether or not this would be considered a ‘benefit in kind’, if so, you must declare it on your tax return. If you get it wrong, forget to include it on your return or try and get away with it, HMRC will know, because the details of the trip, including the cost and who paid for it will all be recorded. Do you really think they won’t be looking?

Lets say you have saved up for a trip of a lifetime, or perhaps one of your relatives have contributed to the cost, the HMRC will be able to check the cost of the travel arrangements against your earning and if it is above an accepted average, it could trigger an investigation. Granted, it may be perfectly innocent, but the onus will be on you to prove how the trip was funded, this may mean you having to detail your income and outgoings for

decades. If you have a perfect record AND you can prove it, then you have nothing to fear. If, however, a relative, has gifted you money, whether for the trip, or at some other time, unless it is below the annual gift threshold, then the gift could be subject to tax. If you haven’t paid the tax, you can also expect, at the very minimum, a fine, but they may also prosecute. So, you still think the travel database won’t affect you?

Remember, these new controls will include monitoring how much you spend whilst you are abroad, so if you normally buy a few gifts, electrical items, DVD’s, clothes etc., and you don’t bother declaring them, then think again. Because they will know how much you spent, where and, of course, if you declared these goods when you returned to the UK. How many of the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” brigade can claim to have a perfect record I wonder?

So, if you have never carried out any of the above and you don’t intend to, you are almost certainly in the minority, therefore it may not affect you.

Unless, of course, there is something that I have missed out and you can be certain, that this Government is well ahead of the game. They have even looked at it as a revenue generating scheme by threatening anyone who does not register their travel details with a fine of up to £5,000, as always with this government, it is always stick and no carrot.

For example, this database and UK Border Controls will also start to collect fingerprints, how long before they require other bio-metric data, remember, the Government wanted to include this information on ID Cards, but because there was such an uproar, they are intending to collect it using other means,

in this case, anyone that travels abroad and that is most of us. This Government are just hoping that we are too stupid to notice that they are simply gathering this information via another means. We have seen the government agencies sell our personal data to private companies, one example is the DVLA who have provided parking companies with the name and addresses of vehicle owners, so that they can be hounded for parking fines. How long before they are selling our travel arrangments to airline companies and the like?

Our government consistently lie to us about why they need so much data, constantly harping on about terrorist threats and so on. The reality is, determined terrorists will always be able to get in through our porus borders, they know how to get virgin passport; spying on the travel arrangements of 61m people will NOT prevent terrorists (who may be here anyway) from entering the UK, nor will it stop people being smuggled into the UK. Instead, all it will do is allow the state to terrorise the people of this country. Is this really what you want?

The LibDems, and no I am not a supporter, do at least appear to want to roll back government intrusion with their Freedom Act, lets hope that they will have some success and the electorate will start to understand just how intrusive government has become into our everyday lives.

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (1)

Blunkett and onset of Big Brother Britain

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Blunkett and onset of Big Brother Britain


Hard-liner, David Blunkett, is expected to criticise the government’s continued obsession with creating a surveillance society intent on infringing the liberty and rights of British citizens in an address at the 21st annual law lecture in Essex University’s Colchester campus. Although Blunkett is expected, wrongly in my opinion, to claim that the government has got the balance between liberty and security he will voice concern over other highly contentious issues.

He will come out against the Government’s controversial plan to set up a database holding details of telephone calls and emails and its proposal to allow public bodies to share personal data with each other. He will also suggest a complete U-Turn on compulsory identity cards, although he is expected to insist that they should be mandatory for all foreign nationals. David Blunkett is also expected to urge the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to dilute the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Bill on data sharing between public bodies. He will warn: “It is not simply whether the intentions are benign, undoubtedly they are, but whether they are likely to be misused and above all what value their use may have.” Similarly, he is expected to criticise the misuse of the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which has been used for example, by local councils to tackle dog fouling and the monitoring of rubbish (no, not MP’s, refuse!)

When someone that so vehemently supported the introduction of ID cards and tough anti-terror laws raises concerns about the risk to privacy and liberty, the government must sit up and take notice. Although Blunkett’s comments are measured, it is reasonable to surmise that he is genuinely concerned and in order not to embarrass the government, he has couched his comments to be received positively. In just over a week, we have had the former head of MI5 criticising this government’s intrusion into our lives and now a former, hard-line Home Secretary. When will the government realise that they have gone way to far and, when will opposition parties appreciate that they would be pushing at an open door if they agreed to review and if necessary, repeal oppressive and draconian legislation that infringes the rights of the people of this country?

I will let David Blunkett have the last few words. “The strength of our democracy is that we are able to challenge when the well-meaning, but sometimes misguided, take their own knowledge of the threats we face to be justification for protecting our mutual interest at the expense of our individual freedom. If we tolerate the intolerable, the intolerable gradually becomes the norm.”

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (2)

MP’s are preaching, not listening

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MP’s are preaching, not listening


According to a survey completed by the Hansard Society, MP’s are not taking advantage of the power of the internet and, those that do, typically use it as a method of transmitting information, not receiving it. The only thing that should surprise anyone here is the fact that this is being heralded as a new discovery. The truth is, members of parliament (from all parties) have been talking at the British public for decades, although it is more prevalent now than it was, for example, 15 years ago.

With one or two notable exceptions, the only time members of parliament engage with the public is when they want something, which is typically once every 5 years, to convince us to vote for them. Once they get their seat in parliament, the majority of them couldn’t give a toss about their constituents, all of a sudden that are taken in by the deference they are shown and the generosity of the expense accounts.

The internet is a great tool for engaging with the general public and blogs represent an excellent forum for debate, yet only a handful of MP’s have their own blogs or contribute to other ‘political’ commentary/opinion blogs. Why, do you suppose that is? I believe it is a combination of the following; they can’t be bothered, they have nothing constructive to say, they are frightened of engaging with real people that have not been briefed on what questions they can, or cannot ask, their own positions are indefensible or, they are way to busy completing their expense claims.

Some government ministers are contemptuous of so called ‘political bloggers’, take Hazel Blears for example, she waded into them last year claiming they were fuelling a “culture of cynicism about public life“.  It couldn’t be that people were daring to disagree with the government could it? In fact, her attack only demonstrated her own ignorance and ineptitude, because what she chose to forget was that behind these blogs are real people, voters, who feel that blogging is a method by which they can voice their opinion and engage with other who may or may not agree with them. One thing is certain, frustrated voters have no other way of venting, with a government intent on doing as much as they can to restric freedom of speech, marches or protests!

The truth is, members of parliament ignore the power of the internet and the influence of political bloggers at their peril. The internet is an excellent medium to find like minded individuals and although it may be still be some way off, I would not be surprised if a new political party in not founded via the internet and one that speaks for the people, rather than at them.  

Only a fool, or in this case, a party and government of fools would choose to ignore a growing momentum of disaffected voters in the vain hope that they will go away. MP’s should engage with the public, not once every 5 years, but each and every day….or risk losing their seat. If they don’t do that, then I predict that today’s political bloggers will become tomorrow’s independent MP’s, only then will the people of this country really be able to call the government to account, because it would be our equivalent of non-executive directors! So the message to ALL Members of Parliament is stop transmitting and start receiving, before it is too late!

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (0)

Mortgage Help, another case of say something, do nothing

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Mortgage Help, another case of say something, do nothing


Anyone that was struggling to pay their mortgages would probably have been heartened in December last year when Gordon Brown said that the government were to introduce a new scheme to help them. Gordon Brown’s announcement even managed to upstage the Queens Speech. To be fair, Gordon Brown did say that the Homeowner Mortgage Support Scheme would be available early in the new year, but a recent government update suggests that it will only be up and running in April. Surely this has got to be one of the cruelest things this government could do to people facing repossession? Does this man, Gordon Brown or New Labour have no sense of decency? In December, the government claimed that 8 mortgage lenders had signed up to the scheme, if true, why the subsequent delay, doesn’t this government understand the urgency of the situation for real people in trouble?

For a government that loves statistics, I wonder if they will have anyone calculate how many families will have lost their homes during the intervening period between the announcement and implementation of the new scheme? I very much doubt it somehow. People could have been forgiven for believing that the government, following the annoucement, had something ready for imminent launch. What was the rush for Gordon Brown, was he just chasing the headlines? It smacks of a cheap and wilful swipe at real people, in crisis…something that appears to have become the norm for New Labour.

To make matters worse, Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne said the governments approach compared favourably to the Conservative Party’s “do nothing” approach. Is this guy on the same planet? Firstly the public are sick and tired of hearing government ministers and Labour MP’s constantly justifying their own failings by claiming that the Conservatives Party policy was to do nothing as if this was an acceptable excuse. Secondly, the Labour government appears to be incapable of understanding precisely how much they raise expectations when they make policy announcements and the level of disappointment felt by people when they find out that the reality doesn’t match up to the rhetoric.

Whilst I am not a great believer in government intervention, I do believe that if they make a commitment or promise, then they must deliver on it in timely manner and in accordance with the original announcement. That said, this government has rarely, if ever, lived up to any of its promises, it is time for a change and I suspect, the people that they are now disappointing, will be the very people that ensure they get it. I cannot wait for an election so that we can get rid of this incompetent, self-serving, spin loving, pathetic party and get on with repairing the damage they have cause and once again, get to the stage where we can call it Great Britain again. I suspect that it will take a long time to get things right, but at least we would have the comfort of knowing that a promise made, is one that they will do their damnedest to deliver.

Posted in General, Labour | Comments (1)

Big Brother Britain and a new Database for travel

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Big Brother Britain and a new Database for travel


At a time when we should all be considering tightening our belts, the government of Big Brother Britain has decided to set up yet another database to spy and record details of British citizens travel arrangements. Once again, this has is being justified on the pretext of national security. Quite apart from the fact that this government has proven itself incapable of introducing working databases on budget, the fact remains that it is entirely unnecessary. This database has nothing to do with security and everything to do with government control over its citizens. There is simply no way that this government can justify spying on 60m people in order that they can track, at most, a few thousand potential terrorists.

This is in addition to the governments intention to record every email, text message and telephone call, plus our Internet browsing habits. It is high time the British public started asking why on earth this government needs so much information on its citizens. It is estimated that the Big Brother Britain database for spying on calls and Internet traffic will cost £12bn, it is therefore, reasonable to assume that this latest database will cost at least 50% of the costs, therefore another £6bn, minimum. These two databases are equivalent to the cost of 300 new hospitals!

Once again, thus far, the opposition parties have been noticeable by their absence, they should be refusing to support this oppressive, civil liberty busting voyeurism of this Labour government. They should be promising to scrap such databases or repealing legislation that permits the collection of this data. There has been a complete lack of any justification by this government, presumably to ensure that there is as little publicity as possible whilst they try and sneak this programme through the back door.

Wake up Cameron, wake up Clegg and wake up people, this is becoming completely unacceptable, in terms of our liberty, right to privacy and of course, the excessive cost at a time when we can least afford it. We are already spied on by some 4m cameras, information on our children, their welfare, schooling, carers, health and so on is already being stored in a government database. This government is introducing a cradle to grave spying programme on its own citizens, it is time to say enough is enough. It has already been noted that we are one of the most spied on nations anywhere in the world, alongside places such as North Korea. Surely that must ring alarm bells for even the most complacent British citizen?

This latest database will store names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details of travellers. The notion that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear is total nonesense. Why? Because is presupposes that the people that have access to this information will use it for legitimate purposes. How can we be certain when this government has already allowed thousands of agencies, public and private access to our personal information that is already stored? Enough is enough, stand up and be counted people, and Mr Cameron, get off your backside and say something, either you support this destruction of our civil liberties, or you must fight against it, show some backbone, prove to the people of this country that you are not a lighweight. Say no to Big Brother Britain – RESIST!

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (14)

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