Monday 31 October 2011

I am a customer and shareholder of Barclays Bank

Does that make me a bad person?

I don’t like capitalism but, as I’m not prepared to opt out of ‘the system’ and live in a ditch, I’ve learned to live with it as best I can. As have most other people in this country I might add. Virtually every financial transaction is an act of capitalism. It’s a shit system but that’s the system, sadly. We can change it but the majority don’t seem to want to. If you have a pension, an endowment policy or some other kind of life assurance savings policy you will indirectly be investing in the stock market, and probably in Barclays Bank or some other institution that is oft held up in public as worse than the rest of them. It does often seem very random about which companies people chose to hate or hold up as examples of “the unacceptable face”. That doesn’t mean I necessarily approve of everything that Barclays do I might add.

To date my working life has been spent in the private sector, so as you can imagine I have been well and truly shafted by capitalism over the years. Early on I was a bank clerk working for Lloyds Bank as it was then. My first ever bank account was with Lloyds, although I switched from them after I left. Over the years I have been a customer of a number of banks, including the Co-operative Bank, who I still have an ‘Oxfam’ credit card with. But I have always found Barclays to offer excellent service, their branches well sited and relatively plentiful and their online banking is first class. So much better than a mutual I also deal with. I acquired the Barclays Bank shares via the Woolwich Building Society. As a member at the time that the Woolwich demutualised I was issued with some of their shares. I held on to them. When Barclays bought the Woolwich I was then issued with Barclays shares in their place. I’ve held on to them. They go up and down like the proverbial Tower Bridge, and this year those peaks and troughs, mainly troughs I have to say, have been quite extreme. I consider them as a long term investment; a little something for my retirement.

As most people who work in the private sector will know, pension arrangements these days, by and large, tend to be shit. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to retire as my pensions aren’t going to be great but I have no desire to work until I drop. I worked for a company for 16 years and paid into their pension scheme. I left about 6 months before that company finally went bust. The last owners ran it into the ground, stole employees’ pension contributions and never made their promised contributions. Because of this, a failed marriage and challenging finances through much of my life my pensions will fall short of anything decent. In an attempt to supplement the meagre pensions that I will no doubt get when I eventually retire I have invested the Barclays shares along with shares of a few other household names into an ISA. My pensions and savings will possibly only just keep me above a poverty existence. And, I am not over egging the pudding here I can assure you. Retirement, despite not arriving soon enough, is going to be a struggle for me, that’s of course if I am spared. That said I know that many millions are going to be a lot worse off than me because they will only have the state pension and other benefits to live on; pensions and benefits that become less valuable virtually by the day. A civilised society would certainly not have the inadequate pension provision that we have in this country.

That’s my excuse, what’s yours?

Friday 28 October 2011

Are we all totally fucking mad in this country?

Yesterday the BBC reported that “Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has claimed £535,000 of taxpayers' money over the last five years, government records have shown.” She is not alone of course, other ex-PMs are at it as well, milking the expenses scam that John Major set up when he was in office. Thatcher’s claims are particularly galling because of what she did to this country and its people, bringing large swathes of the population to their knees. It’s as if our noses are being rubbed in it! I don’t actually have a problem with ex-PMs claiming expenses in principle, like I don’t have a problem with MPs claiming expenses, as long as they are fair and reasonable, but £535,000 over five years is taking the piss big time. I suppose it’s a case of once an evil cow, always an evil cow.

As if that wasn’t bad enough we awoke this morning to the news that “Pay for the directors of the UK's top businesses rose 50% over the past year, a pay research company has said.” Whilst most of us have suffered minimal pay rises or none at all, which has effectively eroded our real income, company bosses have been dipping into their proverbial tills with gay abandon. Thanks to the recklessness by the financial institutions of the world we are in a recession, profits are down, companies are making thousands redundant and yet company directors see fit to up their pay by an obscene amount. It is immoral. But not only that, it doesn’t make good business sense either; there is no logic in upping the pay of those that are measured by results when they are currently not performing. Just remember every £1Million of bonus paid out to some festering fat-cat could pay the wages of 50+ people; food for thought.

These are just two examples of nest feathering at their most offensive. The rich and powerful are raping and pillaging this nation. The majority of us aren’t filthy rich. The majority of us don’t hold public office. The power and wealth in this country is held be an elite few. And, we allow that!

Yes, we allow it. We must be mad to do so. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Ultimately it is us, the majority, who hold the real power. We just need to wake up and exercise that power.

Oh yes, now, what was that ConDem motto again? Oh, that’s right, “we’re all in this together”. Like fuck we are!

Thursday 27 October 2011

White not red

I’m a pacifist and I suspect more people would be if they really thought about the true consequences of war. I would never wish to take the life of another and would never ask anyone else to kill on my behalf. I believe it to be totally, utterly and immorally wrong to wage war. Around this time of year I usually remind people that there is an alternative to the British Legion red poppy. That alternative is the white poppy.

The White Poppy symbolises the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than killing strangers.

The white poppy is available from and promoted by the Peace Pledge Union. “The Peace Pledge Union is the oldest secular pacifist organisation in Britain. Since 1934 it has been campaigning for a warless world.

Please order your white poppy today and wear it to promote the notion of peace.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Comfort food

Isn’t comfort food great? The grub that cheers you up when you are low. Interestingly all of my favourites are savoury. So with no further adieu here it is, that all important top ten:

Nº1 Baked beans on toast
Nº2 Fish fingers
Nº3 Bacon sarnies
Nº4 Cheese on toast
Nº5 Hummus and pitta bread
Nº6 Macaroni cheese
Nº7 Fish, chips and mushy peas
Nº8 burger, chips and a beer (chips must be thin chips)
Nº9 Nachos
Nº10 Dips and crudités

Beat that!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Tax and spend

I wish someone with right-wing leanings could explain to me why it is so important for rich people to pay less tax than the less well off members of society, because it is a concept that I really do not grasp. I understand why they claim that more tax is collected if the rich pay lower rates, although I don't necessarily buy that. I also know of the arguments about it encouraging entrepreneurship which is a false argument because if you tax people a little bit more they’ll look for opportunities to earn even more money to compensate. So I really don't see any of their tired arguments as justification for lower taxes. It is like the government saying "we don't have a very good arrest rate for muggers so we're going to make mugging legal". Morally it is indefensible and mathematically it is questionable.

One of the problems we have with our tax system is that it is so unfairly weighted towards those in society that are less well off. We are virtually all taxpayers as I’ve explained before. Very few escape apart from the very rich and the insane. Tax should always be equally about two things: fairness and revenue collection. A tax regime has to be seen to be fair as well as being fair but it must also be effective in revenue collection. At present we have neither. Our tax system is far too complicated which enables the rich to avoid paying what they should. It is my belief that a simpler and fairer system would actually increase tax revenues.

Okay, redistribution of wealth is still not as popular in this country as it should be but that is not surprising as the rich expend a lot of energy and money on propaganda to hoodwink the population into believing that a large gap between rich and poor is desirable. And, sadly people fall for it. Redistribution of wealth, financing the mechanics of state and paying for measures to promote social mobility are what taxes should be for, with the emphasis on taxes applied to income rather than spend. When you tax spending this disproportionately hits the less well off, those that can least afford to pay taxes. If we had less of a divide between those at the top of the earnings ladder and those at the bottom then differing rates of tax wouldn’t be so necessary but unfortunately UK companies would rather get away with paying most of their staff the bare minimum rather than generous wages so that they can reward those few at the very top; it’s pure capitalism/market forces which as we know doesn’t work for the majority of people.

I think the sad thing is that the fair and equitable redistribution of wealth would ultimately create a stronger economy, with a higher GDP per capita and lower tax rates. What fat-arsed money men can’t seem to grasp is that if you put more money into the pockets of the less well off the less well off will spend it. When they spend, business booms and the economy grows. As the economy grows this generates more wealth and higher tax revenues. Beats quantitative easing every single time. It’s similar to the model that works reasonable well in Scandinavia. What’s not to like?

Sunday 16 October 2011

It’s Not Me, It’s You

As readers of this blog possibly know I’m a big fan of Jon Richardson. He has to be one of the funniest comedians performing in the UK today. His comedy is intelligent, complex, subtle and gentle but angry. His comedy tends to be based on what he sees as his character traits, his failings and the failings and irritating habits of others.

Subtitled ‘Impossible perfectionist seeks very very very tidy woman’ this book is about Jon’s foibles and his self-styled failure to find a mate. It is hard to review this book without giving too much of the content away, and as part of its charm is not knowing where it is going to lead I wouldn’t want to reveal too much. This book contains some romance, some triumphs and a lot of very funny bits; my favourite being an incident on a train with a twat on a mobile phone. I read this book mostly on train journeys and I could not stop myself laughing out on many an occasion.

I like Jon’s comedy because I identify with so many of his beliefs and so many of the ways he does things. He is blessed with the knowledge of how things should be done, a knowledge that precious few of us are blessed with. Knowledge like how a toilet roll should be hung on its holder. Things like this should be obvious but it is surprising how so many people get so much wrong.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Ham sandwich rules

Your common or garden ham sandwich is a tricky blighter. I’m sure many of you have lost countless hours of sleep worry over the correct condiment to apply to this humble pork based snack, not wishing to show your ignorance and become a social pariah. Well folks help is at hand. I can reveal the answers to the ham sandwich vis a vis condiment conundrum. There are really only two condiments that should ever be applied to the ham sandwich; they are mustard and piccalilli. Obviously not applied together as that would be just plain silly, either/or.

Interestingly if you were to deconstruct the ham sandwich and eat it as ham on a plate with bread and butter the only legitimate condiment would be brown sauce. The same obviously applies to ham, egg and chips; brown sauce and brown sauce only. Hope that’s clear.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

In praise of Tesco. Well sort of.

A lot of people love to hate Tesco. I suppose it’s because they are the largest supermarket chain in the UK and those opposed to large supermarket chains of any description and the tactics employed by that sector instantly go for the jugular of the brand leader. It’s a view I don’t necessarily share.

I don’t like capitalism, but unfortunately it is the system we are forced to live under. Of course I could just opt out of the mainstream economic society, but that has always seemed like bloody hard work to me. So, I take the path of least resistance and having metaphorically taken the bullet in the back of the head in room 101. Given that, my supermarket of choice would always be Tesco. They have reached their number one position because they a good at what they do. They offer consistent quality and choice at prices that offer value for money. What’s not to like? In my humble opinion the real villain is the American owned Asda. They claim low prices; and yes you can pick out some of their prices and they will be cheap. But, I’ve never liked the quality of their own-brand products and, whilst no supermarket shopping is enjoyable, shopping in Asda always seems like a very unhappy experience. As a consequence I actually think in terms of the whole shopping experience Tesco beat all others when it comes to my shopping trolley prices. My message is lay off Tesco as its better the devil you know. It’s Asda that people need to be wary of.

Whilst Napoleon was probably right when he described us as a nation of shopkeepers I do think it is a great pity that we don’t manufacture as much as we once did. Manufacturing can be a very positive force in any economy. It creates wealth by genuinely adding value as opposed to some of the service sector that creates dubious ‘smoke and mirrors’ wealth. But I suppose I’m biased as for the vast majority of my working life I’ve worked in manufacturing. So when I saw that Europe’s largest private sector employer was now a British company I was quite taken by surprise. Not something you expect. Of course I naturally thought of some manufacturing based conglomerate. Perhaps I’m too blinkered. It turns out, according to this article, that Europe’s largest private employer is none other than Tesco. I suppose we shouldn't complain about any British economic success story as in these times of need “every little helps”.

Monday 3 October 2011

Wake up Britain

There is no such thing as a compassionate Tory. If they were compassionate they wouldn't be Tories. Their policies are only ever designed to enable their paymasters to become even richer. If they introduce policies that appear to favour what they might call the 'lower orders' it’s only ever because in the long run they stand to gain. The Conservative Party is driven by greed and funded on the spoils of greed. They believe that the rich should get richer and the poor poorer. They are the nasty party. Wake up Britain before it is too late.