Tuesday, 14 December 2010

It fair gladdens the heart

WHETHER you are an unreconstructed Tory or an unreconstructed anarchist, the protests over increased student fees must gladden the heart.

As a Tory, you get to claim that the violent forces of malcontents, anarchists and bad ‘uns have run rampant, with only a thin blue line averting the breakdown of society. As an anarchist, you get to claim that the people are on the streets, brutalised by the police, and that only violent protest stopped the Poll Tax.

Meanwhile those of us who benefitted from halcyon days when fees were paid and grants offered to most must be a little confused. After all free higher education was a good thing in our day, we know someone needs to pay for it, but exactly who should and how much?

In addition, such confusion has been evident in the Northern Ireland Executive. It is apparent that NI plc would be delighted to be able to claim that it could subsidise higher education so that fees could be minimised, if not eliminated, but that ain’t going to happen; and if it does Sammy will be doing a lot of explaining to HM Treasury!

Instead, we have a complex financial conundrum being played out in simplistic terms on TV and radio.

Nevertheless, we must commend the inspiration of modern history students. Surely it must have been they who were behind the protest in Belfast. Sit down blocking a road...that would be the history of Ardoyne protests course. Causing traffic chaos at rush hour...that would be how a provo held up rush hour traffic with a bag of 10ps and a code word to claim devices were ‘planted’ throughout the city.

Alternatively it could have been a combination of art and drama students who made Belfast city centre into an extravagant avant garde performance art piece with the tableau captured for posterity by the hovering PSNI helicopter.

It certainly wasn’t the earth and environmental science students – all the pollutants pouring out of idling vehicle engines simply horrified the tree huggers. Whichever student group orchestrated the protest in Belfast should not be shunned by Minister of (un)Employment and Learning, Danny Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy should forthwith seek out the protest organisers, wrench them from the dead hand of law and order, bring them into a darkened room – and get them to explain how people from such a diverse range of backgrounds can organise themselves.

If they can manage to bring Belfast to a standstill with a few Facebook posts and text messages, solving the budget problem would be a doddle. Failing that, the English Literature students could at least help him cobble together a press release.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Taxes are so ‘unattractive’

THIS week it has emerged that former chief ‘A’ level examiner and current Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson finds tax cuts ‘unattractive’ – well one in particular.

There has been much lobbying for a reduction in Corporation Tax to align ourselves with our Southern cousins. Now it has emerged that if we do it HM Treasury want some money back. You just cannot win!

If the Corporation Tax was reduced then it is imagined that a tide of FDI (that means Foreign Direct Investors to those who are not privileged to stalk the multi-storey Invest NI Bedford Street mega office) will sweep into Northern Ireland. It is also imagined that if the NI Executive can just capture that leprechaun and his pot of gold then all will be well for the Budget.

Let’s face it – the idea that lowering Corporation Tax is a panacea is fanciful if not ridiculous at best. Along with – if we slash the public sector then everything will work out despite the fact that our economy is dependent on the sector.

So what have Gerry and Robin ever done to the SDLP?

YOU could ask what have the Junior Ministers, Gerry Kelly and Robin Newton ever done to the SDLP, who announced in their budget proposals that the Junior Minister posts should be scrapped in these tight financial times.

Of course, you could argue that there is only a slight chance that the SDLP will occupy these posts so it is easy to call for them to be scrapped… but that is only the sort of comment the most cynical of us would make…

And, if we are to be accused of cynicism let’s be a wee bit cynical about the party’s call to tax holes in the wall. No, not the Hole in the Wall gang, but ATMs; those ubiquitous Automated Telling Machines; or cash machines as known colloquially.

To stretch the analogy a wee bit, let us suppose that those in the lowest socio-demographic quartile (see we can do smart talk too, like!) have not got access to fancy, dancy credit cards and debit cards. Instead they have their post office card and a wee card savings account. Then the logic is that the tax will impact those with the least; making it a regressive tax.

You may recall from GCSE Economics – or for older readers ‘O’ level economics – that regressive taxes are generally those that affect the poorest. And as you may recall from GCSE/O level politics, social democratic parties – even those with centrist leanings are pretty much against hitting the poorest hardest.

On a brighter note, under the SDLP’s proposals, any public servants earning over £80,000 per annum will have their pay cut by five per cent…

Tories confused by coalition confusion

IT used to be the old Conservative and Unionist party. But to be a Tory in this part of the union can be a little confusing.

Rewind a couple of years and the UUP/Tory project was seen to be building a wee bit of steam ahead of the European election. Then came the general election debacle.

Then came the recriminations, and then came the discussion over Assembly candidates and just who is standing for whom?

With the UUP shedding and suspending members, and the Tories here suddenly finding themselves seemingly cut adrift from a Conservative HQ that sometimes misses the nuanced paranoia of Northern Ireland politics.

The local Conservative Party chairman, Irwin Armstrong has resigned – no doubt in exasperation.

We recommend that every time David Cameron doubts the wisdom of coalition with the Liberal Democrats he can cast a wistful eye across to Norn Iron and sigh gladly that even the students are easier to handle than the Norn Iron political classes.

Grit your teeth

THERE is a seemingly stupid level of bureaucratic insanity that abounds in Norn Iron; at times it reaches levels of Kafkaesque surrealism.

Now that temperatures have reached heady heights of single figures in what can be described as a thaw the issue of gritting footpaths will fade from radio talkshows for now.

But let’s recap. The snow and ice left a wake of icy roads and footpaths. The Roads Service gritted as much as possible in damned cold weather. They said simply they could not afford to grit the footpaths. Some councils decided they could, others said they couldn’t.

For several days footpaths across Norn Iron were dangerous to those venturing out.
There was much disagreement over who would be liable over claims and a lot of confusing comments from local council spokespeople and Department of Regional Development.

As they were waffling on the airwaves and penning comment pieces in newspapers a simple fact existed – most footpaths were still treacherous to pedestrians, with no doubt the resultant increase in trips to A&E with fractures.

Over 12 days many footpaths were left ungritted. We restate that because there is obviously some form of sheer lunacy that renders grown ups incapable of picking up the phone, arranging a quick meeting.

And the agenda of that meeting should be very simple and clear – let’s agree a way to get the gritting done.

These grown ups prefer to look for an imagined claim for injuries that may or may not happen as a way of avoiding making a collective decision.

The only joined up government is the joint repairs of a pensioner waiting in a hospital ward for an operation after toppling on an icy pavement.