Saturday 25 April 2015

An illogical attachment to lumps of metal

The contents of my tool box are like a biography of my biking life over the past 30+ years:

There are some almost antique tools that my dad gave me. They are are a reminder of the Saturday mornings when as a young boy  I would get to spend some precious time with him 'mending the car' - a weekly ritual of checking the tyre pressures, checking the oil and giving it a polish.

There are some cheap and nasty tools that I brought as a teenager for my first moped. I think a lot of them came from petrol stations and they were ham-fistedly used to bodge repairs that more often than not required taking into a shop to have put right again.

There are some slightly better tools that I brought when I was a student. Me and my mate with whom  I shared a house for a couple of years  had a garden full of crappy old little bikes that we had fun trying to fix up. We probably spent as much time messing about with them as we ever did studying.

Then there are a succession of more obscure tools that I brought over several years to fix specific problems on specific bikes that I have owned.The bikes have long gone but the tools remain. Often they were panic buys made when I discovered that I needed them half way through some job with the bike in pieces. As a result their cost was often disproportionate and it would have made more sense to have taken the bike to a professional mechanic. But that was never the point.

Then there is the most recent batch of tools brought in the past ten years when I first got into Harleys and I had to supplement all those metric tools with imperial sizes. Most high street stores simply don't stock imperial tools these days, and you are met with a blank glaze of you ask for a 5/16 hex bit socket in Halfords. So these tools were often hunted down on the internet - and sometimes ordered from the 'states.

These tools are not precious. They are of mixed quality. All of them at the end of the day are just lumps of metal - often rusty. But they are mine. Or they were. The other night some bastard got into my garage and stole them. I've already started, but I know it's going to be a pain to replace them. And I am never going to be able to replace the memories they evoked ...

Wednesday 8 April 2015


Non-doms are back in the news. What is extraordinary is not that Labour are finally talking about abolishing the tax loop-hole for the super-rich, but that it has survived so long - and nobody has been screaming about this real benefit-scrounging.

Income tax dates from the need to pay for the Napoleonic wars - and from the very start there were some built-in dodges to enable those who could really afford to pay tax to avoid paying any at all.

The fig-leaf rationale for this at the time was empire building. If people pledged not to bring their income from overseas in to the country they were exempt from being taxed. In the pre-1857 British Empire when imperialism was essentially mercantile rather than governmental this had some of logic. Empire-building before the Great Rebellion in India was an early form of PFI with private individuals given only limited support from the state.  The system incentivized the younger sons of the nobility, aspirational social risers, and other assorted chancers escaping the rigid hierarchy of British society, to become minor potentates  in far flung parts of the world. Where they could live lives of opulence and decadence undreamed of in the home country. And so in some sense the tax dodge helped build the empire.

Nowadays the idea of ring-fencing overseas wealth  makes no sense from any point of view. Over the years the grounds for claiming non-dom status have become even more spurious - it is now more about having a foreign born parent or a bank account registered abroad than it is about owning a tea plantation. In fact there is no real pretence that it is anything other than a dodge for the super-rich.  

Apologists for this system argue that its abolition would drive the super-rich from this country. However this supposes that the hidden hand of the market somehow ensures that a trickle down effect ensures that we all receive some benefit from the mere presence of the super-rich regardless of whether they are actually building factories in this country or just counting the interest on their off-shore bank accounts. In fact on a practical basis it actually discourages the bringing back of real investment into this country - which of course would be taxable. 

Getting rid of this should hardly be controversial - no other country in the world has such a blatantly unfair and illogical loophole - but it will not be easily given up. It is emblematic of the perversity of the system we live under.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

An everyday story

Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon leafleting a nearby estate for TUSC. I did it in the company of a bloke I'd not met before. He was a council worker who had got involved in the election campaign largely because his job was threatened by the latest (and deepest) cuts package from Haringey Council. In the course of a few hours trudging around the estate we swapped life stories. I thought it was worth sharing his:

Pete had served an engineering apprenticeship and worked in various manufacturing jobs until he was made redundant by new technology. Then he went to work for the Post Office. He knew that he would never earn the same amount as he had as a skilled tradesman, but he was willing to trade this for security. But after ten years he was again made redundant. After sometime of unemployment, he went to work for the council as a street cleaner. Until that service was contracted out to a private firm - which is now laying people off in response to the council's budget cuts. He is now over 60 and is looking at the options of voluntary redundancy as he is not sure in any case how many years he has left when he continue to be doing manual work outdoors every day of the year. He is  pretty sure that when he does go, probably in the next few months, he will not work again.

An unremarkable story perhaps, but it encapsulates everything that has got wrong with our society over the past 20 years - and has been experienced by millions.