When is a Pleb not a Pleb

Andrew Mitchell, the government chief whip has made himself the butt of jokes (even Vince Cable had a go) for calling a copper guarding the house of Commons “a Pleb”. His full quotation was I believe “Best you learn your f****** place… you don’t run this f****** Government… You’re ******* plebs”.

Its odd of course, that he used many 4 letter expletives in this exchange, several being the sort that would typically get you nicked, but the one that has attracted most attention is the “Pleb” word. Its sort of like a white guy using the “N” word. Its a term these elitist Tory’s often used to describe us working class folk (I would note that strictly speaking I’m more middle class, but to an upper class twit everybody who doesn’t own a country estate and have a butler is “a Pleb”) when talking amongst themselves. There is also this attitude taken amongst them that the purpose of the Police is to keep “the plebs” in check, those of the elite (such as Tory’s or bankers like Fred Goodwin) are essentially supposed to be above the law and able to do what they like.

And you can’t really blame the guy. I mean its bad enough Cameron forces the Tory’s to leave the chauffeur driven Jag at home and make them cycle around like some Chinese peasant. But then this copper comes along and puts his greasy working class paws on him and speaks to one in his coarse working class tones, no wonder he lost his rag!

David v’s David
Meanwhile in America, David Cameron came a little unstuck when it turned out that he didn’t know who wrote rule Britannia or what Magna Carta stands for, both standard questions on a UK citizenship test. Now this would have all sailed over the heads of the US audience, indeed he seems to have come off quite well in that regard, but then again must US politicians probably couldn’t identify their own state on a map if you asked them. Grumble about our politicians in Europe all you like, but they are a class above the ones the other side of the Atlantic.

I think Cameron’s blunder thought does highlight the fact that very few people in Britain would be able to answer the sort of questions a citizenship test calls for. We give out citizenship too easily here, or in Ireland for that matter. All you need to acquire UK (or Irish) citizenship is:

(A.) fell out of mums ass and landed in UK
(B.) be over 18
(C.) have a pulse

I’ve long proposed to make it a bit more involved. We could introduce a module into the GCSE (or whatever system the Tory’s dream up to replace it) called “citizenship” that would teach everyone the basics, such as “Magna Carta” and who wrote it, how parliament and local authorities work and other more obvious stuff like how you should put rubbish in bins (don’t just chuck it on the ground)…or not to swear at the police and call them “plebs” (unless they’re clampers or traffic cops in which case its required! ;D). Passing this module would then become a requirement for anyone seeking to vote, become a member of parliament, get a passport or claim benefits of any kind.

Ireland and the EU

I was in Ireland the other week and I noticed a new trend. Many of the pubs in Ireland have traditionally consisted of a “bar”, which is basically the “old man’s pub” and the “lounge” where the younger crowd hang out. Now many of the pubs have closed off one of these parts of the pub, and re-opened it as an off license. And that’s the pubs that have managed to stay open. Many smaller pubs in Ireland are closing altogether.

The publicans blame various things for this, the smoking ban, the lower drink driving limits, higher VAT on booze. But ultimately the real reason is the state of the economy. Now you would think that “selling beer to the Irish” was practically a license to print money (kind of the polar opposite of selling freezers to the Eskimos!). But with the current state of the economy many Irish are cutting back on their spending (not drinking mind, jasus we drank enough back in the old days when we had no good reason to drink, now we’ve plenty of reasons!) and drinking at home. Its a telling trend of how bad things are when even pubs are in trouble.

While many Irish firms seem to be taking it all in their stride, indeed for large sections of the Irish economy its business as usual. But there are still plenty of boarded up businesses. Just around the corner from me there’s a factory (in business for twenty years and was going strong up until it was bought out) that was closed down by a developer because he wanted to knock it and build apartments. Now its just a derelict site. Further down the road there’s a set of traffic lights which is meant to allow access to a small industrial estate. They are a waste of time now, as all of the businesses down that street (mostly builders merchants) have closed down. The number of pawn shops in the country has exploded. There used to be just one in Cork, now they are all over the place.

Capitalists will often say that recessions are good, because they allow for those firms that are bloated and inefficient to go bust to the benefit of more competitive enterprises. That’s not quite what’s happening in Ireland. A number of smaller shops which were well run, in some cases offering better prices than the chain stores have closed down, likely because they ran out of short term capital. By contrast the larger but less efficient firms are still in business (using their large size and cash reserves to weather the storm). This is one of the flaws of capitalism, sometimes it is not the most competitive firms that survive, but the biggest. The danger is that the Irish high street will go through the same process that was seen in the British high street after Thatcher’s recession. All the local firms will close down, leaving a line of overpriced chain stores, making every town a virtual clone of the next.

Of course in the UK, they are ahead of the curve. The next phase of decline, which we’ve already seen happen in the US, has all the chain stores closing in the city centre and moving to out of town shopping malls, leaving the city centre to be taken over by pound and pawn shops, or simply boarded up and abandoned.

Meanwhile Back in Brussels….

Meanwhile, the ECB announced that it would start buying the bonds and security’s of troubled Eurozone countries. Now I would note that I’ve been calling for this sort of action for well over a year. While by itself, it would still be insufficient to completely rescue the euro (fundamentally there are problems inherent in the euro that need to be solved, the situation in the Spanish regions is a classic example).

But taking some of these measures now proposed earlier would have bought a lot of time. It would have meant there may not have been the need for a bailout of Greece or Ireland. The harsh austerity measures and the devastating economic effects that they had would not have occurred. Indeed with Ireland and Greece would now be in the process of recovery. The “haircut” to Greece’s creditors might have been avoided. All in all the crisis would be well on the way to being solved.

However, its probably too late now for these measures to have the effect the EU was hoping for. A year and a half was wasted due to the dithering of Merkel. Part of being in government is to make unpopular decisions for the long term good of the country. As I’ve previously pointed out, if the eurozone collapses much of the bill for that will land in Frankfurt and London.

Debt is also a two way street. The lender has a moral responsibility (if not a sound financial reason) not to lend recklessly to people who can’t pay such loans back. This is why pay day lenders (whose entire business model revolves around lending too people who can’t pay the loan back) get such a bad rap. Thus, the German policy of both blaming Greek’s for everything, or that screwing the Greeks (or Irish) over, essentially acting as Europe’s largest loan shark, isn’t going to magically make them pay all the money back.

Germany has the most too loose from a eurozone collapse. Aside from having to foot a bill of a trillion or so euros, Germany would also loose its economic competitiveness. Consider how UK manufacturing practically died on its feet due to the effects of the UK staying out, while Germany’s manufacturing went up (currently at 29% of GDP). Indeed Ireland, despite our problems, has a higher proportion of its GDP (46%) tied up in manufacturing than the UK (21%). The Germans have therefore as much, if not even more of an incentive, to fix the Euro than anyone else. One can only hope its not too late.

Things I missed….again!

I went on holiday again (taking lots of little breaks this year) and naturally returned to a desk full of things to do. So haven’t blogged for quite sometime. Here’s some of the stories I missed.

A bit of oh laa laa
Of course a big story the last few days has been those photos of Kate Middleton. The royals are unsurprisingly up in arms about it. It looks like the French mag. at the centre of the storm is about to be sued and the Irish Daily Star might be closed down.

Now I have to say, I ain’t a Royalist, I don’t give a hoot but the Royal family and I personally reckon the UK would be far better off getting rid of the monarchy, as many other countries get by perfectly well without a load of upper class free loaders.

However, like anyone else, the Royals are entitled to some degree of privacy. Casing point if I went around photographing my neighbour’s topless with a telephoto lens, I think the cops would very quickly arrest me as some sort of perv. As Sienna Miller said at the Leveson inquiry, she would often be pursued down darken streets at night by 20 or more men and just because they had a camera and a press badge this was considered legal.

I mean let’s reverse the situation, suppose that someone took photos of the missus of one of these editor’s in the nip, or prince Harry took snaps of Berlusconi and girl friends at one of their bunga, bunga parties? Would they be happy about that? Actually, Berlusconi has gone to great lengths too protect his privacy….so it seems odd he’s determined to undermine the privacy of others.

Now I’m all for freedom of the press. But only when the matter in question is something that is in the public interest. Now while we can debate all day as to what is or isn’t in the public interest, I think its pretty clear that the shape of Kate Middleton boobs are not a matter of public interest, not when there’s a pile of other much more relevant stories that the newspapers could be focusing on (the economic mess, Afghanistan, the coalition’s austerity plans, Syria, global warming, take your pick!). If looking at pictures of women’s (or men’s) anatomy is your thing, there’s plenty of websites and top shelf magazines that specialize in that sort of stuff.

Phone hacking again?
The press involved here have tried to cover themselves by citing the security issues towards the royals. I mean what if it was a rifle rather than a telephoto lens?

I would note as regards this that one does not simply ring up Clarence house and ask them when Kate’s planning to get her kit off so you can be ready to take a few snaps. Nor could this have been a lucky spur of the moment shot from a passing tourist (who happened to be carrying a lens capable of taking photographs over a 600m distance). No, the photographer who took these photos was likely camped out for days (in camo we assume) waiting for these shots. That would have required planning and preparation, which means he must have known where the Royals were holidaying in advance. One thing that came out in the phone hacking scandal was how many celebs and politicians seemed baffled by how the press always seemed to know their movements in advance. We now know how they kept so well informed.

It is therefore very likely that someone in the press hacked the Royal’s, or they’re security’s, phone or e-mails. That is indeed a legitimate security concern. So if the press are so concerned with Royal security, then surely they’ll share that info with the relevant authorities.

Put up you’re Mitts
The gaffe prone Republican contender has put his foot in it again, claiming that 47% of Americans are dependant on welfare, and thus won’t vote for him. I would note that writing off nearly half of the US population is hardly a way to win friends and influence people. Also, as Obama has since pointed out, one is elected president of all Americans, not just the ones who vote for you. Had Obama just wanted to serve the Americans who voted for him he’d have pursued a very different, and indeed generally more left wing, programme of government.

Also as I have previously pointed out the biggest welfare recipient’s in the US are its corporations, for whom the US government is either their best customer, or indeed their only customer. Many of the “red” Republican leaning states are heavily dependent on welfare handouts from Uncle Sam. I seem to remember commenting on how in Colorado Springs, the very heartland of the Tea Party movement, 8 out of the city’s 10 largest employers are state related jobs. 25% of the county’s GDP is tied in some way to “big government”. It makes poor business sense to take your best customer and drown him in the bath tub. The loss of government subsidy to many Mid-west and Southern US states would essentially destroy the economies of these states, likely leading to mass migration out of them.

There is this myth in Republican circles of the “self starter” who “stands on his own two feet” without any help from government. The reality is, the US is as much a big government, centrally funded nation as any European country. And it always has been that way and it always will be. While we spend our public funds on important stuff like health care, they spend it on silly things like the world’s largest military or a vast interstate highway network or welfare to corporations.

Casing point, I had a conversation with one of these Tea Party nuts while on Holiday. He seemed to blame Obama for the deficit, even thought I pointed out that much of that blame when to Bush (e.g. the 2009 budget was submitted the year before Obama took office by the outgoing Bush Adm., it was only in that year that Obama got to make his mark on the 2010 budget). He seemed to think that Obamacare was going to cost the country billions….actually its scheduled to be be revenue neutral (once you factor in the fact it will lead too less people leaving work and winding up on welfare and thus paying taxes for longer). Finally he conceded that it was all about “the principle” of Obamacare…..and what about “the principle” of the vast subsidies that go towards many US corporations? (notably farming, defense, pharmaceuticals and ironically enough private healthcare providers). Or how about “the principle” of libertarians like him driving into Washington on publicly funded and heavily subsidized freeways to protest about high taxes?…..hint we pay a lot more in taxes to drive in Europe!

If the Americans wish to retain European levels of public spending then they need to raise taxes to European levels. If they want to cut it down, well then the only pieces of the US budget which you can cut that would achieve the sort of deficit reduction they hope for, are those very bits that benefit the rich and Republicans, i.e. all those military related jobs and contracts, making US motorists pay something a little closer to what we pay in Europe for the privilege of driving, cuts to agricultural subsidies, Medicare, etc.

Social welfare cuts (which Republicans favour instead) would cause enormous hardship, not produce any meaningful reduction in public spending. Indeed, the experience in the eurozone has been that they produce the opposite effect (depress tax receipts and strangle the economy). And furthermore, as these are mostly funded via social security contributions, cutting such spending might be illegal (as American citizens have been paying into the social security fun under the assumption that its purpose was to fund their retirement, dole money, welfare payments if they become disabled, etc.). There is nothing in the US social security act that says the fund is the Republicans own private piggy bank to be cracked open, anytime they feel like raiding it. Cancelling social security would also likely entitle every American who paid into the fund too a full refund of their contributions with interest (something that would likely bankrupt the US government many times over).

Consequently if Republicans (or Ron Paul supporters) what to talk the talk about deficit reduction, they had better be prepared to walk the walk. As I’ve previously pointed out, the only US president in recent history who presented a balanced US budget was Bill Clinton. And he did it by cutting back on pork barrel spending projects, such as the military, NASA, ACE, the DoE, etc. He also put up taxes (marginally).

As John Steward of the daily show points out in this video, there is also an invisible President Obama that only Republicans can see (evil twin?). Romney’s comments on the Middle East have also come in for criticism.

War on Drugs….we’re still loosing!
A “victory” was announced recently of the capture of a leading member of the Colombian Drug cartel. Unfortunately they forgot to mention that the rate of drug importation into the US has not slowed significantly and that this capture merely represents a changing of the guard, as Mexican drug cartels now largely control the trade and distribution of Cocaine and other narcotics.

While I certainly do not support the drug pushers (and Cocaine has got to be one of the worse possible drugs to mess with), but at the end of the day so long as there is a demand for drugs in the West, somebody will supply it. I would instead ask the question, why do so many people in the West feel the need to anesthetize themselves with large quantities of illegal narcotics (or indeed alcohol). To me drugs are a symptom of a wider social problem, not the problem in itself. Treating the symptom, while ignoring the underlying cause will not solve the problem.

Fit and proper?
The Murdoch’s and BskyB were in explicable ruled to be sufficiently “fit and proper” to own a broadcasting license. As I believe I pointed out before, if indeed the Murdoch’s do pass mustard here, what does one have to do to loose a broadcasting license? Would he have to start sacrificing babies first or something….actually I’m sure the Sun would just spin that as respecting his right to worship whatever religion he liked and then complain about freeloading single mums!

Jokes aside, consider the pressure the BBC came under over that whole Dr David Kelly affair and the so-called “dodgy dossier”. Multiple members of the BBC board of governors were forced to resign and all the Beeb did was publish something that we now know to be true (the question was whether they knew it to be so at the time and whether the reporter Andrew Gilligan just ranted on the basis of a hunch). Clearly there is disproportionate favouritism being shown here towards BskyB. And obviously the danger is that this sends a clear signal to al media outlets, such as the ones who just published those photos of Kate, that’s its business as usual and you can phone/e-mail hack away to you’re hearts content.

Lib dem’s make final pitch
Nick Clegg has made a promise to his party that he will not allow any further cuts to social welfare programs, unless the Tory’s agree to taxes for the wealthy. Now least you wonder why I’m not dancing an Irish jig about this, its just I’m reminded about how earlier in the week he said sorry for promising not to put up tuition fees. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!

Consequently I suspect the devil’s in the detail. The Tories may well allow for some faux tax that will be badly written and easy for their chums to find ways around paying, and in return they get to impose yet further cuts in public spending. Unless the proposal is properly budgeted (i.e. we get a new tax raising £1 billion a year for £1 billion in spending cuts) then anything Nick says isn’t worth the paper its printed on. Sorry lib dems but you ain’t fooling anybody. And if you do come next election I think the line is: fool me a third time….am I feckin idiot? And the bad news for Clegg is that latest polls suggest, there won’t be many of them!

Badger cull
The UK government has also recently announced a cull of badgers to control TB in cattle. This naturally has the animals rights people up in arms. I’m inclined to argue that they may have a point. Before proceeding with such a cull, you need evidence that its actually going to work, and the evidence is at best inconclusive. Indeed when you factor in the harm to wildlife and the cost of hiring marksmen to do the shooting, I doubt that it works out as in anyway beneficial.

While farmers are certainly of the opinion that a cull is a good idea, this is a simple case of people coming up with ideas and ignoring the science. And if there’s one thing that government’s are supposed to do in such situations is not concede to the mob. They may as well try sacrificing a few chickens and see if that works. On the other hand, vaccinating the cattle would almost certainly solve the problem…

The Rich Tax and Santa Claus

One story I missed commenting on was the rather cheeky proposal by the lib dem’s for some sort of one off “wealth tax” to help boost public finances. Aware of the arguments against a rich tax (the Tory’s argue that the rich will be so incensed by a tax that costs them half of what they spend on Bollinger each month that they will abandon all their possessions and flee abroad screaming in horror), the lib dems counter that perhaps a one off payment to help stabilise the economy would be an acceptable compromise.

Of course predictably Osborne has countered that no, the rich would be so incensed by such a one off tax that they will spend many times more than it would cost them moving abroad to avoid it.

Oddly enough for a chancellor committed to bringing down the deficit he also spent this week talking about spending £50 billion on various “stuff” including a new runway at Heathrow….anyone care to explain to me how increasing spending while cutting taxes will solve the deficit? |-|

These Tory arguments against taxes to the wealthy (or the property tax I’ve just argued for) are starting to become almost farcical. Next thing you know, I suspect Cameron will claim that a rich tax will result in Santa (a large property and business owning non-dom) labeling the whole country as “naughty” and giving us all lumps of coal for Christmas (which for some hard up families struggling to heat the house in winter would probably be welcomed!) 😀

Its as stupid as the Tory’s belief that poverty stricken “welfare colonies” will suddenly become thriving and prosperous (that the neds & chav’s will spontaneously abandon their Burbery hats and tracky bottoms for pin-stripe suits and ties) by the government cutting benefits. I don’t know, maybe if all the unemployed put a CV under their pillow the tooth fairy will come and give them a job? :>>

The many billionaires we see in London are here for a very simple reason – because they see the UK as a safe country where they are unlikely to have the corrupt tin-pot government (whom they got rich off the back of) turning on them, stripping them of all their wealth or have them arrested on trumped up charges (or murdered down some back alley). And in the UK the non-doms know they need not fear being lynched by a horde of angry locals when the revolution comes (I would disagree with them on that in the long run!). Indeed many Middle Eastern and Russian billionaires want a foot hold in Britain as the UK is their bolt hole in the case of a crisis back home. A slight increase in taxation, or indeed getting them to pay taxes in the first place, ain’t going to persuade them to leave, certainly not at the sort of rates of tax the lib dems or labour are proposing.

Indeed I saw one of this idiots the other day, out in his Ferrari, vrum, vrum, cough!…. he stalled it in the middle of the street! I was pissing myself laughing at him! :DD

Furthermore if they are all going to leave :wave:, as the Tory’s predict (good riddance to bad rubbish!), then we need to bring in both taxes. A 0.5% tax on wealth (or Patriot tax as I’d call it), property and financial trades coupled with a 10% “departures tax” of one’s wealth if you permanently move abroad. Problem solved!

Squatters and tenants (lack of) rights

This week the Tory’s introduced a policy that turned the practice of squatting into a criminal offense. Now while they’ve attempted to portray it as a means of evicting hippies from well-to-do London Mansions (there’s a certain class of “professional protesters” who live at no fixed abode and basically go from squat to squat in London, often in posh neighbourhoods, much to the annoyance of many toff’s paying millions to live on the same street). But it has implications for many ordinary people as well.

There is a housing crisis in the UK, yet 450,000 properties are estimated to be vacant at any time. While some are vacant for good reasons (renovations) in many cases they are vacant for economic reasons, i.e. the greedy landlord or letting agent would rather keep a house empty than lower the rent. There are two properties on my route to work that have been vacant for at least a year, and I know this for a fact as I viewed them when I moved to the area, and concluded that the rent being charged meant I wasn’t interested (I told the letting agent as much), but sure enough they are still on the market at the same advertised rent I rejected.

Casino Landlords

During the boom years a new type of landlord emerged in the UK, a type I refer to as the “casino landlord”, as they regard homes and flats as little more than gambling chips in a casino. Many would buy up homes by the hundreds (often online or over the phone without ever having viewed many of them), using the collateral of the stocks of houses they already owned to purchase more homes, while first time buyers (with no collateral) struggled to compete against them and get this first rung on the property ladder. Typically the 1st time buyer, or professionals like me who move around the country regularly (and thus don’t want to commit to buying just yet), were often forced to go to these “casino landlords” to find a place to live. So in essence first time buyers end up paying their mortgage for these landlords.

This policy of “casino landlords” is not only grossly unfair, as it makes it very difficult for people to buy a home and concentrates a large portion of the country’s capital in the hands of a few, but also because it distorts the property market, and ultimately the financial markets. It was loans to these casino landlords that largely drove the excesses of boom and played a major role in the credit crunch of 2007. While quite a number of the “casino landlords” got wiped out in the crash, a price we as a society are ultimately footing the bill for to this day with the bank bailout. But unfortunately with low house prices and 1st time buyers finding it even harder to get on the ladder, they are off again. How long before there’s another crash and we are again forced to provide another bailout?

Dickensian law

This new anti-squatting law means that many tenants who are in dispute with their landlord in some way (for example because he’s stopped maintaining the flat and the tenants are withhold rent to try and force the issue, or the tenant has lost his job and waiting for the housing benefit paperwork to go thro) risk being labelled criminals. Inevitably this will greatly increase levels of homelessness in the UK, at a time (as noted) we have hundred’s of thousands of vacant property.

This would all be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that the UK already has an almost Dickensian system of regulation of letting that is distinctly tilted in the landlords favour. In the UK you’re landlord is pretty much your lord and master and you’re the unwashed oink paying homage to him.

Consider that in most other parts to Europe, or indeed in many parts of the US, you have much greater control over what you do with a property you are renting. You can make home improvements or redecorate (in theory the landlord could request you put it back to the way it was before, but as people in Europe rent for much longer, chances are he probably won’t remember what it was like before!) while in the UK you need the landlords permission to so much as put a nail in the wall. You can choose to change energy supplier (in the UK you need the landlord’s permission).

You can also own pets (in some places they do have restrictions on pets or can require you clean the place appropriately to remove any “doggie” smell or hairs) while in the UK you can’t even own a goldfish (a work colleague of mine got told to get rid of her goldfish by a UK letting agent). This last one might explain to me the rat epidemic in the UK right now. When I was growing up we always had a cat or dog and therefore hardly ever saw mice (save when the cat brought you a live one!). The other morning I saw a large rodent (not sure if it was a rat, but it was way too big to be a mouse) in broad daylight in my back garden…fortunately the neighbour’s cat was around soon after that to investigate.

Many parts of Europe and the States have rent control, which limits what rent the landlord can charge and how much it can be increased by in any given period (steep fines can be leeved on a landlord who breaches these rules), while “rack rents” are a common feature of renting in the UK. Also while the UK landlord can fob off his council tax onto tenants, generally in other parts of the world paying things like property tax is seen as the landlord’s responsibility (although inevitably he will pass such costs onto the tenants).

While landlords in the UK are forbidden from discriminating on ethic grounds (of course some still do, just ask anyone from a minority whose tried to rent in certain areas), UK landlords can certainly discriminate on the basis of income and class. Many UK landlords will slap things like “no DSS” on their rental notices , which essentially implies “no chav’s or working class scum”….Of course if you’re like me, a professional moving between cities and you have no job in the meantime (i.e. the whole point of moving is to start a new job!) this can make getting a place to rent problematic, nevermind if you’re a professional fresh of the plane from India.

And while European landlords need a valid reason to evict you, UK landlords can pretty much tell you to feck off anytime they feel like it. And getting you’re deposit back off a UK landlord, particularly if you’re a foreigner, is next to impossible, even if you’ve left it as you found it (in Germany for example it goes into an interest paying deposit account with the tenant reaping the interest payment and a third party deciding on whether it can be withheld).

As we all know the social housing system in the UK was gutted by successive UK governments, notably “the” Thatcher. Social housing in the UK has nothing like the capacity needed, they are badly maintained and often run down, often in the middle of nowhere…..Which is just as well as successive governments seem to have gone out of their way to ensure that some estates (or perhaps I should say “ghettos”) are populated but lots of not entirely nice people, as seen in the UK TV show “The scheme”. Indeed UK social housing estates have frequently been used as little more than a dumping ground for people that the government would rather get rid of (out of sight out of mind).

By contrast in other European countries social housing is not only more readily available, but the stigma (and fear!) attached to it doesn’t exist (one famous block from the Weimar Republic days in Germany is now a world Heritage site, can you see any UK council houses achieving that status?).

When is a squatter a squatter

So this anti-squatting law merely shifts an already hugely unfair system all the more over to the landlord. Of course there’s squatters and then there’s squatters.

Many of the landed gentry in the UK don’t seem too realise that their right of ownership to their vast estates amounts to squatting. They’re forbears were given these estates by the monarch centuries earlier (in other words they never purchased the land, merely broke in and occupied it), but it was often taken by the monarch off of another noble, or indeed the ordinary peasants who had farmed it throughout history.

Doesn’t this law now make many toff’s, Cameron included, criminals? It seems to me that there’s one property law for the rich and another for everyone else.

Home are for living, not gambling

The UK desperately needs to clean up its letting market. As Vince Cable himself once said, homes should be for living in not gambling chips in a casino. If you want to play the money markets, get in touch with a broker and buy some shares, not people’s homes.

The Lib dems talk of a “mansion tax”. I don’t think that would work and I suspect it misses the point. I would instead advocate a property tax. This would give a 100% discount to every household for their first property, up to a specific value (say £1 million countrywide and £2 million in London). This provision is important as it heads off at the pass any attempt by the Telegraph or Daily Mail to claim that people will be “taxed out of their home”. However, once you own a 2nd home you have to pay property tax at a rate of say 0.25% of the value of your total property portfolio (that is the total value of all the property’s owned). If you buy a third, it goes up to say 0.5% (again against your total portfolio), and so on.

Alternatively if all that sounds too complicated (or unfair), just a simple flat 1% charge against the value of all property portfolios held by a household that exceed £1 million in value or any more than 3 properties. I can see some leeway for 3 properties by the way as some people will inevitably be between houses at times while in possession of, say a holiday home or maybe their recently deceased grandma’s house (the purpose of this tax is to get the rich to pay a bit more and run the casino landlords out of town, not tax ordinary householders).

As this tax (in whatever form it is implemented) is based on the landlord’s finances it would be illegal for him to pass it on to the tenants. Further to that this tax would be applied to all UK residents (we’ll say anyone who is in the UK for more than 60 days per year or who owns a UK passport) and applies regardless of citizenship status (so the non-doms can’t dodge it) or if the property ownership is registered abroad.

Such a tax system would very quickly force many of these casino landlords to sell up, indeed if we want to avoid a rush of property sales on the market and a crash in house prices, a simple solution would be to offer them a deal whereby they get a substantial discount in the tax, if they give their tenants a similar discount in rent (e.g. the landlord puts down the rent by 30% the government lowers his property tax by 30%, tenants will then presumably spend the many on other things boosting economic growth) and so long as they sell said property within the next 10 years.

Alternatively if were not going to allow squatting how about a rule that states that if a property remains unoccupied for more than, say 6 months (for reasons other than refurbishment), then the local council is within its rights to take over the property and use it to rehouse homeless people (obviously they’ll pay the landlord the going rate for social housing in the same area and take the necessary steps to ensure the property is well maintained for the duration) while the landlord looks for tenants. Of course as I suspect the last thing most landlords want is a load of poor people in his plush pad, he’ll very rapidly lower the rent to a level sufficient to get it let before this 6 month period expires. They’ll also be more keen on keeping flats maintained and thus hanging onto tenants.

Whatever measures are taken the UK is burying its head in the sand on property. The current near medieval system of ownership and renting is being exploited by a small number of spiv’s and speculators, distorting the property market and threatening the long term economic stability of the country. If we’re going to say that squatters don’t have a right, how about at least enshrining the right of everyone to some form of home.