Panama and Voting

Hot news, apparently, dictators, the super rich, corrupt politicians and criminals try to hide their ill gotten gains. Add to this list the moderately rich and various investments funds try to to avoid paying as much tax as possible. This is news?

In the spirit of openness I too have investments in offshore funds. It’s called my pension. I can’t confirm that I don’t own shares in Panama registered companies. Don’t look shocked, I have heard lots of people say that recently. Why can’t I confirm? Investment funds.

The pension company offers multiple funds in which I can buy units. Some of these funds trade in oversea shares. Frankly I have no idea if any of these units are linked to operations in Panama, The Cayman Islands, Belize and many other tax efficient locations. Just because I am several steps removed from the investment and income does not mean I do not want a good return on the deal. I want interest and investment gain too.

Of course I will have to pay tax on the income just like I already do on my salary, savings’ interest and directly invested share dividends. By the way every single person in this country that has an ISA is trying to avoid tax. Every investment in a personal pension avoids more tax. Every claim of business expenses is another bit of tax avoidance, why do you think your employer wants a VAT receipt? A little less hypocrisy please.

I think we all knew that bad people do bad things. The 11 million Panama sourced documents just confirmed this knowledge. It used to be the notorious Swiss bank account. The use of shell companies and hidden investment funds should also be no surprise. If anyone has watched The Big Short or read any of the extensive reviews of the financial crash, the rich bankers were peddling AAA rated investment funds as if they were solid gold. In reality they were derivatives bundled with other derivatives sold into other funds. Your pension fund may well have invested in these funds.

This was probably criminal behaviour, although precious few have gone to jail, whereas avoiding tax may be morally questionable but it is not illegal. Those few of you who have been kind enough to buy my book, The Persuasive Man, know that I have included a lot of financial wheeling and dealing in that fictional account. Fictional yes, but based on several financial stories and some personal experience.

Avoiding tax is a national pastime. Ask a tradesman if he’ll do the job for cash and you contribute to tax evasion which is illegal. Of course morally we are happy to have got a deal. We, the purchaser, have not done anything wrong. It is not our responsibility to declare the income, but are we a co-conspirator?

Directly in the UK, the Prime Minister has been dragged into the mess as the documents showed that David Cameron and his spouse had shares in an investment fund set up by his father. As usual with political scandals it’s not the actual thing that’s the problem, it is the cover up or the failure to come clean. Then of course we have the reporters dramatically trying to turn a drama into a crisis

The BBC were interviewing voters in Bedfordshire about whether they have changed their opinion of the Prime Minister, then came the most ridiculous question. Will you vote for him? Last time I checked, Cameron’s constituency was Whitney in Oxfordshire not Dunstable in South Bedfordshire; so how exactly were these voter going to vote for him? He has also said he will not stand at the next election. Therefore, no one is going to be able to vote for him.

You can vote in May local elections. In June you can vote for the EU referendum. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their respective Parliament and Assembly elections, (English Democratic deficit anyone?) but except for by-elections no UK MP will get elected until 2020. It’s like asking the vox pop interviewee, the archetypical man on the street if they would vote for Trump – had to get him in somewhere – irrelevant and just bad journalism.

With 11 million documents to sift through who knows which name will turn up next. Of course Cameron has got himself in this mess for not being open and forthright at the start of the week, not for what he has actually done with a relatively small amount. Yes, I know £30,000 is a lot of money to most of us, but compared to the billions hiding in Panama shell companies, it’s not really.  By the way as the shares were co-owned by him and his spouse that’s £15k each. Capital gains are only due on the element above the yearly allowance depending on how long the investment had been held. Income from the fund should have been declared each year on the individual tax return. So a £30k fund on a very good year may have paid out 10 percent per annum so £1.5k per year each at 40 percent tax is £600. Not exactly a new duck pond. The selling story is already 6 years old.

Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is making political hay out of the alleged scandal but is it just me? Not many Labour MPs are making a song and dance about this nor Liberals. Even the Scottish Nationalists are being relatively quiet. Have I missed something?

We can add UEFA and FIFA to the list of those being embedded in the scandal, Iceland has already lost its Prime Minister. It seems this leak even makes other news disappear although the press are desperately trying to link the revelations to the EU in/out referendum. After all we need something to make that more interesting.

Meanwhile 1.5 million migrants/asylum seekers/immigrants/terrorists (delete as applicable) have tried to enter the EU and the new deal with Turkey has allowed 200 to be returned to Turkey. Perhaps we are missing the scale of the problem and not addressing the priorities. Mr Putin (be respectful) seems to be connected to Panama via some friends who seem to have a lot of state money. What about EU funds are there no documents connecting EU officials. Of course we have the overseas aid budget from the EU and the UK which have often been suspected of ending up in odd bank accounts. No news there then.

Back to the scale of the financial misconduct, what efforts are actually being made to get the money. Has the Panamanian Ambassador been called in, have any executives of the legal company been arrested, is anyone going to be charged with anything? Is any money going to be returned? More likely it will all disappear, the money and the story.

Perhaps a sequel is needed but would anybody buy it? Perhaps I should set it up as an offshore investment fund opportunity?

Blog-less Blog

That is the current status of this blog. I am supposed to write regularly and hopefully providing articles and comments of interest. All instead of just spouting updates on the progress, or lack of it, on my books.

The idea is to write other stuff which will attract interest form a broad readership. In turn this will lead to readers investigating this site and then hopefully clicking on a book description and consequently purchasing one of my offerings. Notice no links or embedded spam – is this a new approach? No, it just seems to have no impact so I’m trying a bit of reverse psychology. The statistics from this site tell me about click through traffic and pages read. Since my last post advertising my latest release and associated discount on the first part of the series, I have started several blogs but time and my own interest stopped a post going out.

I was going to comment on the Google tax deal and Apples quarterly sales in a hopefully witty way. Googles amount of tax paid to HMRC and the city’s reaction to Apple’s disappointing revenue and profits. If only more of the UK’s home industires had such disappointing results. Then there was the humour in watching the UK’s Labour Party trying to explain how we would still have a nuclear deterrent if we let our submarines sale without nuclear weapons. For real entertainment we can all enjoy the US Presidential Election Candidate Selection Process. This seems to consist of a group pf people from all parties who demonstrate their unsuitability at every occasion. Only another 9 months till the election. This is on the UK news almost as much as the other big story, namely the UK’s referendum.

As of this morning, 20th Feb, the UK apparently has a new deal agreed by the other member states. Does this indicate the sunset of the UK’s EU Membership or a positive renewal of our commitment. This is being described as meeting Cameron’s (the UK’s current Prime Minister) objectives and thus allowing him to campaign for a yes vote in what will probably now be a June referendum. I stated current as if he loses the referendum he may have to resign.

The yes vote is to stay in the European Union based on the changes agreed.  At the moment the polls (Remember them in the last UK election) seem to provide a very mixed response. The Daily Telegraph had 51.5% in against 48.5% out. YouGov with The Times this morning has 45% leave against 36% stay. As with the 2015 election – more guess work.

Flags_of_European_UnionOne annoying point that the scaremongers report is how the UK would be suddenly isolated outside the EU. The UK would still be one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It would still be in NATO, World Health Organisation the IMF etc. It would still have too numerous to mention direct treaties with nation states including other EU members e.g. The Lancaster House Treaties between UK and France signed in 2010. It would still be a part of other pan-European organisations and legal processes. It would still be the 6th largest economy in the World. The sun will still rise in the East and set in the West. It will still rain – often.

For those scaremongering the other way, the same applies. The Common Market has changed out of all recognition. Some of this is good, some of this is done badly. The horrible farce that is the current migrant crisis and the never ending Euro crisis ( no it has not gone away, Greece was requesting more concessions as a condition fro backing the UK’s negotiation only this week) are caused by EU treaty and process failure. The EU like any organisation can be reformed from inside i.e. stay in and fix it. Some of the reforms the UK has asked for other member states want as well, they would not have agreed otherwise.

I must be honest – I am on the fence. The previous European referendum was on staying in what was then called the European Economic Community (EEC). The UK had actually joined The Common Market without a referendum and has not held a referendum since despite the vastly different environment that the EU now represents. I was too young to vote then. England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not asked about Scotland staying in the UK in 2014. The only referendum I have voted in was one on Alternate Voting, in 2011, where only 42% of people could be bothered to vote at all. The Alternate Voting and the EEC remain the only UK wide referendums ever held in the UK. Yes the mother of Parliaments, the cradle of modern democracy, has only bothered to consult the voters twice. The first of these was after the fact.

If it takes place in June, the planned referendum will be held before any legal treaty changes are made and before the European Parliament votes to accept the changes. It remains unclear what happens if the European Parliament rejects the changes agreed by the European Council (Heads of Government) or the Treaty Changes are not made. Many of partners in the European Union (Ireland, Netherlands etc) require their own referendums to approve treaties. Previous changes have not had a smooth ride through this process. The European Constitution vote or Lisbon Treaty is a good example. The first referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon held in 2008 was rejected by the Irish voters. A second referendum followed in 2009 where it was accepted. The UK was going to have a referendum but this was postponed after France and Holland rejected it. The Treaty was then changed. Others voted but the then UK Government signed it albeit after various concessions were created.

The Lisbon Treaty also states the explicit legal right to leave the EU and a procedure to do so. If the UK votes no in June, we will all get to see whether this procedure works, but don’t be surprised if there is not another round of negotiations and another referendum.

By the time the US elects it’s next President or even has the agreed party candidates the UK could be in the middle of a very major change. I might even get around to writing another book!

Not An Election Post

Aside

I was making a major effort not to write about the election. With this I have just failed – sorry.

First rant on the way is about coverage. This is a vote for MPs standing in 650 constituencies across the UK. The MP once elected is supposed to represent all the constituents not just the minority that actually voted for the individual, whatever the rosette.

Second rant concerns who we can vote for. I cannot vote for David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or any of the other party leaders. They are not standing in the constituency in which I live. They are not standing against each other either. The constant portrayal by the media of the battle between them is factually and practically wrong. Another reason why the TV debates were farcical. Yes, as leaders of their parties they may be involved, if re-elected by their constituencies, with one exception for one leader. Nicola Sturgeon is not actually standing for Westminster but she seems to be the only focus of much of the coverage. She is so convinced that she knows what is right for the UK she has decided to stay as an MSP. This fact has not even received any coverage – democratic deficit anyone? Her former boss Alex Salmond is standing (after allegedly retiring) this reminds me of Putin becoming Prime Minister so that he could comply with re-election rules in Russia before returning as President. Is there something the SNP is not telling us.

It was supposed to be a six week campaign leading up to the vote on the 7th May but thanks to the new fixed terms it seems we have gone straight from the Scottish referendum into the General election. As I have previously covered, when discussing the referendum, the media seem to be totally focused on the role of the SNP and the likely results in Scotland deciding what the rest of the United Kingdom should do. Whereas in the referendum we had over 6% of the electorate deciding whether to breakup the UK we now have the potential for the similar 5% deciding who governs. The lower percentage is due to the 16 and 17 year-olds who could vote in the referendum but cannot vote in the General Election.

At the end of the 2010 election we had the Liberal Democrats forming a formal coalition with the Conservatives who were by far the largest party and had the largest share of the UK vote. The Conservatives missed out on forming a non coalition government by 23 MPs. The SNP in its public statements has already ruled out any support for a Conservative led government (although in the Scottish Parliament the SNP has in the past relied on Conservative support). The public statements have been made by Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader who is not even standing in the election! She next stands for election in 2016 in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Therefore she is saying that regardless of the result in the rest of the UK she will not support potentially the largest democratic vote.

Of course combined with Labour the share of the vote may well exceed that of the Conservatives, but previous results have shown this not to be the case. Boundary changes were supposed to correct the anomaly. Scotland’s 5% of voters 9% of population equates in Westminster MPs to 9% of MPs (59 out of 650). Polls seem to indicate that the SNP may win over forty of these, predominantly from Labour. As with public sector spending per head Scotland seems to be batting above its position. UKIP proposes to change this position by reforming the Barnet formula for devolved spending. Of course UKIP may have some MPs itself to support or otherwise any planned coalition.

Meanwhile the polls tell us it is too close to call but that some informal or formal arrangement nay have to exist. Labour has said no to any formal coalition with SNP. Liberal Democrats have said they will work with anyone depending on the results. The Conservatives only talk about overall majorities. If the Conservatives do have an overall majority will the SNP respect the democratic decision of the majority of the voting population?

Enough politics I have books to write!

Are All Politicians and Commentators ‘Nuts’?

Today in the UK there is brewing one of those made up press rows about which the general population stares in disbelief and has to check it’s hearing.  This row concerns the use of the word nuts.  On BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show The Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was interviewed and asked about the proposed policy of the Opposition’s Labour Party and it’s leader Ed Milliband to increase Corporation Tax for businesses.  The Prime Minister called the policy ‘nuts’ the interviewer tried to turn this into David Cameron calling Ed Milliband nuts but Mr Cameron managed to avoid that potential trap, however, the row is not about the respective merits of the policy which on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme was not discussed.  Instead it was about the use of the term nuts and linked to a story last week about Asda, a supermarket chain in the UK, withdrawing from sale Halloween costumes described as Mental Patients because they were potentially offensive to Mental Health Patients or sufferers.  This could have led to a more interesting discussion about the continued Americanisation of events like Halloween and the importing of those traditions into the UK instead it was only about whether the mental health lobby was offended. They better not watch One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest or The Shining then, or read/watch any other horror, thriller, crime, story that feature potentially psychotic behaviour.  Let alone Basil Fawlty hitting his car with a branch because it has broken down, or should we just call him nuts, sorry I’m not supposed to use that word it might offend other car hitters suffering from a mental aberration.

What has this to do with writing you might ask?  Censorship, is my answer and in particular self-censorship.  Something that public pressure in the form of media frenzy seems determined to inflict on all of us that write.  Now irrespective of the benefits or otherwise of the political policy why shouldn’t Cameron be allowed to call the policy nuts if that is what he thinks it is.  I’m sure Mr Miliband thinks several of Mr Cameron’s policies are nuts as well and if he does why should he not use that term which is defined in this context in many thesaureses as

Nuts – adjective
(slang)=  insane, mad, crazy (informal), bananas (slang), barking (slang), eccentric, batty (slang), psycho (slang), irrational, loony (slang), demented, nutty (slang), deranged, loopy (informal), out to lunch (informal), out there (slang), barking mad (slang), gonzo (slang), doolally (slang), off your trolley (slang), up the pole (informal), as daft as a brush (informal, mainly, British), not the full shilling (informal), wacko or whacko (informal), a sausage short of a fry-up (slang), psychopathic, off the air (Australian, slang) • Either he’s joking or else he’s nuts. • A number of the players went nuts, completely out of control.

Now some of these uses do imply behaviour that is abnormal and have been linked with slang terms to describe mental illness, but should that stop us using a perfectly good description for a policy – I don’t think so.  There is a worrying habit where perfectly good terms are no longer used by writers and commentators because of fear of offending someone.  Language changes – just look at the term gay for an example, I know what it used to mean, happy, joyful, now it can’t be used in any other context apart from to describe homosexual behaviour.  Will I soon have to stop using nuts to describe some of my favourite food for fear of alienating the mental health lobby that really will be nuts.

Meanwhile I continue to know very little about why Mr Cameron thinks Mr Milliband’s policy is nuts nor do I know what the policy link in the USA is between the latest budget crisis and the existing Health Care policy.  Again the story there was described as a row against President Obama and the Republican Party with neither policy being debated just personal invective fired in all directions.  Whatever happened to reasoned debate.  Again on Radio 4 this was linked to a Republican Congressman reading extracts from a Dr Zeuss book, why was not clear and what that had to do with budget debate was not clear.  This was linked to a doorstop canvasser in Virginia knocking on someone’s door.  Meanwhile the fact that Asian stock markets were down several percent because of the impending budget issue wasn’t mentioned.  Now in a debate on Education or literacy, reading Dr Zeuss may be relevant but the whole article struck me as being nuts and if that offends some mental health experts so be it.  Also nuts was the fact that the BBC like many media outlets instead of calling it that actually gave more air time to that Congressman reading extract from a Children’s book.  As to the actual policies being proposed by Democrats and Republicans we heard nothing.  The story was then linked to the next Presidential Election not even a year since the last one – please are you all nuts!

I’ve used the BBC’s reporting twice here simply because I was listening as I often do to BBC’s Radio Four Today programme.  I used to think the programme provided a cultured insight into the day’s headlines but now seems to be little more than thirty second sound bites interrupted by the presenters trying to get their take on the story.  Of course the politicians don’t answer questions, except Mr Cameron did bluntly, albeit on a TV interview,  then tried not to because he was scared of the language he used.  Now that was nuts.  The fact that he may have joked about the Mental Health lobby was also discussed.  Is it just possible that we could have a debate about the tax policy of the parties rather than a debate about the language used to describe the policy.  How about some facts or am I being nuts!

So what as a would be writer should I do?  Should I add to my earlier rants about controversial subjects by using as many examples of allegedly controversial words as possible?  I’ll self censor here, I don’t want to offend anyone in a blog  so no N, (black) C (female sexual organ), used but I have mentioned them, should I not.  If I was writing 1950’s dialogue in the American South shouldn’t the N word be used.   If I quoted D H Lawrence should I use the C word?  I’m feeling happy should I call myself gay or avoid the words as toxic, use euphemisms in order not to upset people.  Do I have to add loony, nuts, mad and countless others to my proscribed list for fear of upsetting someone.  That would be nuts.  Apparently there are over 1 million different words in the English language with many having multiple meanings depending on context although the  Oxford English Dictionary

contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as sub-entries”

Does this rising tide of words we should not use, mean that the number of words will reduce, do we as a population not just writers want our vocabulary reduced?

Now that really would be nuts!