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?

Mischief for Scotland Join My Petition

It is a year after the Scottish Referendum with a result with a clear majority in favour of staying in the UK. This was supposed to be a once in a generation decision, and the SNP leadership agreed that it was. Still if you don’t like the result you can always change your mind. Perfect EU principle as Ireland discovered.

It is only four months after the UK’s general election result. Despite this, we still have the SNP calling for another referendum or how the UK government has no democratic mandate to rule in Scotland. This is because 56 of the 58 regional MPs are from SNP. This opinion carefully ignores the views of the other 594 MPs representing other areas of the UK and in particular claiming that the 331 Conservative Party MPs have no democratic mandate to rule in the UK. Full result here. I make that a democratic majority just in the Conservative party without taking into consideration the views of other parties on the subject of the Union. I am unclear what the new Labour leadership believe.

Although I believe that the United Kingdom is better together, that does not mean I am not heartily sick of hearing the SNP moaning about how badly treated Scotland is. Still it keeps the public’s eyes away from their actual record as the governing party of Scotland, with the current devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. How about a few questions about that BBC and the rest of the media.

So in the spirit of helping the SNP out, I want to start a petition, not for them to have a referendum, but to be expelled from the Union. This should be a much faster process and for once, the rest of the United Kingdom might get a say in the matter. You can sign up via the UK Governments petition web site.

Click this link to sign the petition:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108874/sponsors/MJjAp4IjbnqBhJ1kg8

My petition:

Expel Scotland from the United Kingdom

There are only 56 MPs from the SNP, but they believe the rest of the 650 should carry out their wishes, whatever the consequences for the rest of the UK or what the UK voted for in May this year.

The SNP continues to press for an new referendum on membership of the UK. The Scottish people voted less than 12 months ago to stay; however, the remainder of the UK has had no say. If Scotland continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the rest of the UK it should be expelled.

Post Election

I’ve put off commentating on the UK General Election for a few weeks. Firstly, because I was on holiday when the results were being counted and secondly, because I wanted time to collect my thoughts. I have written before, about the Scottish Referendum, and my thoughts on how this impacted democracy and now we have another set of results to ponder.

Let’s skip over the compete inability of the professional commentators and pollsters failure to predict results. There is a collective ignorance across much of mainstream media about how voters interact with pollsters and focus groups. You get this in all sorts of surveys and its hidden in the small print (not in this blog) when they say 8 out of 10 WHO RESPONDED, liked so and so. Political pollsters use their already collected results to distribute the don’t know and go away responses across the existing results i.e. if 35% is the rating for party x then they assume that 35% of the don’t knows or won’t tells will vote that way. In other words the extrapolate the results based on current and past numbers and therefore confirm their own prediction. Me I bet money on the result, for non-Conservative supporters, sorry yes I did bet on a Conservative win. Even I did not expect an overall majority via the first past the post system. Of course what the pollsters wanted was 650 surveys featuring a high number of respondents. They had to wait for the actual election to get an accurate forecast. Even the exit polls were incorrect. Now it is believed that the split in the don’t knows and won’t tells was actually heavily in favour (in England anyway) of the Conservatives. Who knows? The don’t knows and won’t tells will get another chance in five years for the general election. By which time we will have had another referendum, euro-elections, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections and numerous local elections. All of which will give the pollsters something to discuss.

Meanwhile I can turn my attention to the major democratic deficiencies highlighted by the election. Lets start with facts. I’ll use the BBC’s results page for ease of look up, I’m not dismissing NI and Wales but concentrating on England and Scotland and I’ll gloss over the fact that only 66% bothered to vote at all

  • Con 331 seats from 36.9% of the vote
  • Lab 232 from 30.4%
  • SNP 56 from 4.7%
  • LibDem 8 from 7.9%
  • Green 1 from 3.8%
  • UKIP 1 from 12.6%

So democracy in action meant that with 37% of the people who voted for UKIP, the SNP ended up with 56 times the number of MPs. The Labour comparison is also interesting 6.5 times the number of votes for only 4.1 times the number of seats. The Conservatives won an outright majority with 36.9% of 66.1% or 24% of the possible voting public. Before the other parties get on their high horses only 20% voted for Labour and 3% for the SNP. We can then argue about combinations voting against i.e. which is a nice way of saying no outright majority voted for anybody. Yes I know SNP had 50% of the vote but that is actually 50% of the 71.1% that voted i.e. 35.5% of the eligible voters.

Aren’t numbers great! percentages are even better allowing all sorts of conclusions to be drawn or statistics manipulated depending on what headline the writer wants to create.

What is clear is that two parties are massively underrepresented in the UK Parliament UKIP and the Greens on shares of the vote they should have 81.9 and 24.7 MPs respectively. The Lib Dems should have 51 and the SNP 30.55. If we limited SNP to Scotland they should only have 50% of 59 i.e. 24.5.

Various proportional representation systems would have produced various different results. If single transferable votes were used then who knows where it would end up. Lists (like the Euro elections) would get a different outcome again.

What does this mean? If you don’t vote you can’t complain. If you do vote you can complain all you want but we had a referendum on changing the system from first past the post and barely anybody (OK 41%) bothered to vote and 67.9% voted to keep the current system. Can’t complain about that either.

Of course in this dirge I haven’t tried to answer why the vote went the way it did. To quote the Bill Clinton 1992 US Presidential campaign “The economy stupid”

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!

Will They Ever Change – The Price of Fish

An old saying – It won’t change the price of fish.

It’s a deeply pessimistic or cynical view of the efforts of our government to actually make a difference.

The next UK General Election will be held on 7th May 2015. Between now and then we have a further By-Election which comes hot on the heels of the two on 9th October 2014. In those By-Elections UKIP won one and came a close second in another. It now has it’s first UK Member of Parliament (MP) via the First Past the post election system for Westminster. This achievement goes with its 24 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected under proportional representation. Before the next General Election it may have another MP. All this turmoil for the main political parties comes after the Scottish Referendum and poll ratings that should concern any political leader from any party, apart from Nigel Farage of UKIP.

In the usual dull analysis that has followed the By-Elections the usual culprit of the immigration debate has been raised as the main source of discontent with Labour, The Conservatives and the almost forgotten Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have their support in Scotland and Wales respectively as do the Northern Irish political parties yet UKIP has made inroads even in these areas.

Why?

My personal view is that this goes back to the the scandals before the last election i.e. MPs expenses and behaviour. I had hoped that after the scandal and the anger caused that there would have been a sea change in attitude form the political class and a huge change in representation in Westminster. It did not happen, of the 650 sitting MPs before the last election…

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate and a reduced majority over the Conservative Party. (Wikipedia)

What is still amazing to me is that 502 MPs carried on regardless.

Now not all those MPs had behaved wrongly in the scandal but they all followed the expenses regime even if they technically did not abuse it. I personally challenged my sitting MP during the hustings on his behaviour. Along with many others in the audience we pointed out that if we had behaved as he had done in our military careers we would have been subject to a court-martial. He apologised, stated that he had paid the money back, then got re-elected alongside his fellow 501. The old saying that the British Electorate would elect a pig if it wore the right rosette remained true, but might that change?

Despite the so-called expert analysis that it’s Immigration and Europe that account for UKIP’s popularity, I am not sure. Nearly every interview I have seen recently with actual UKIP voters explains that there is more than this. The words Westminster elite, which the SNP has used in its campaigns, are reflected in the comments from these voters. There is an underlying anger with all our current politicians. Their weasel words, their blatant insincerity but mostly their sheer failure to address problems. These problems remain irrespective of which colour rosette is in office or which white middle class male is heading the other white middle class males (one notable exception I know but she behaved no differently). It is no use blaming the school they went to after all that choice was their parent’s not theirs.

An example – I am a fan of Grand Designs yet in virtually every design the builder gets their windows, materials etc from Germany because they are the only country that manufactures to the right specification. Is it really the case that our manufacturing and construction industries cannot build a window frame to the right high-tech standard? Come on Mr Branson, Sugar et al or the Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs why are you not investing in this capability or do we really need another branded train/bank,sauce experience! Where is government in this, why can BT take public money for fibre broadband then only deliver it to the cabinet up the street. Why aren’t new house built with fibre to the property with solar panels built in and with those high tech windows that save energy. The old manufacturing centre of the North of England are apparently desperate for work so why would I have to go to Germany to get a descent set of windows?

Instead we have proposals for hundreds of thousands of new homes. Homes that are built to the same poor standards we currently have. Homes that will be plopped into villages and small towns with no additional infrastructure, no new schools doctors etc. At least when the garden cities were built this was included. Now adding an estate of 200-300 homes results in a playground if you are lucky.

I believe there is an underlying unease with the political establishment and those that report on them alongside the bureaucrats that implement policies so badly. There smugness, their unnamed sources reported and constant manoeuvring for their own gain. If we are to have a better election with better MPs then our media need to do a much better job, but of course if they are to critical then they won’t get the inside story. It is in no one’s interest to have a reasoned sensible debate. Instead minor differences are blown up into fake huge rows where no facts are present just interpretation of carefully selected statistics.

Perhaps UKIPs rise is due to protests on immigration, Europe or is it something broader. The votes that used to go to Lib Dems in by-elections are now UKIPs, because the Lib Dems in government have shown themselves to be no different from the rest.

As I wrote earlier I had hoped for a major change in attitude if not parties after the last election. Perhaps it will come this time round but somehow, after months of campaigning I doubt that it will. We will have a combination of white middle class men from the same schools and universities carving up the offices of state for their own fulfilment.

What we can all be certain of is – it won’t change the price of fish.

Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.