News roundup

Do panic

A few months back the brexiters complained that they wanted the Royal Mail to celebrate brexit by issuing stamps to mark the occasion. Well RM seem to have met them half way by issuing a set of “Dad’s Army” stamps. Clearly someone at RM is trolling the brexiters.

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Inevitably perhaps, others have been creating their own versions of potential brexit stamps.

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Our Brexit, hallowed be thy name

Meanwhile, back in the mad house, Saint Theresa of Maidenhead May suggested that an extra £20 billion would be available after brexit for the NHS thanks to the “brexit dividend.

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This was met with incredulity by many. At the time of the referendum when they made similar claims, it was pointed out that the UK only really spends about £8 billion on its EU membership, once farm subsidies, rebates, research funding, structural funds and other things Brussels pays for are taken into account. Of course the implication would be that, much as I warned might happen prior to the referendum, this could indicate that the Tories do not plan to pick up the tab for these bills. Farm subsidies will end in March 2019, the fishermen and deprived communities in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall will see their lifeline cut off and universities will see research budgets slashed, with a knock effect to the many high tech start ups who depend on that research funding to get them off the ground.

And there’s the not so small matter that the UK will be stuck, not with a brexit dividend, but a brexit deficit. There’s the exit bill the UK will need to pay, £40-50 billion net (depending on rebates and currency exchange differences, since its calculated in euro’s). And then there’s the economic cost of undertaking brexit (about 3-7% of GDP, best guess £72 billion).

Plus, what do you think the EU does with all of that cash? They spend it on hiring civil servants to administer all the EU regulations, that May is trying to squeeze into UK law. It was improper regulation on the British end that led to the Grenfell tower fire. In China, there’s a controversy over baby formula, leading to shelves being emptied in Australia because some mum’s don’t trust the Chinese stuff anymore. So regulations are something you neglect at your peril. And the three immediate areas that will need tackling are nuclear materials, medicines and food safety…..so no pressure then! And in any event the conditions of any trade deal, be it with the EU or other parties, will need to include a budget to account for paying for the regulation of that deal.

In short, never has a UK Prime Minster said something so inaccurate since Lord North told parliament that the Americans loved being part of the UK so much, they’d happily pay a bit more for tea. But as I’ve said before, brexit is now the state religion of the UK.

While May, perhaps sensing what she was implying, did backtrack and mubble something about a tax rise to pay for the extra money until the (non-existent) dividend kicks in. But even this is worrying. Basically what she said was that the Tory party is abandoning its manifesto and sacrificing it on the altar of brexit. And while more money for the NHS isn’t a bad thing, its almost certain that this new tax burden will fall on the middle and low income earners (this is the Tories after all, which is more likely, they give up smoked salmon once a week to pay for hospitals, or they get the plebs to pick up the tab?).

Brexit is now to the UK what Juche is to North Korea. The excuse upon which anything can be sold. A tax rise? Its for brexit (but don’t worry we’ll pay you back later). An end to farm subsidies? Privatise the NHS? Strip workers of their right to strike? Its all to make sure brexit works!

Of course the problem with this attitude is it means they just can’t understand why for example Rolls Royce or JLR would suddenly want to move thousands of jobs out of the glorious thousand year reich British empire mark II (because they are companies with shareholders perhaps?). Nor can they understand why the EU are being such assholes and threatening to cut the UK off from intelligence data and the European arrest warrant (because they have this thing in Europe called “rights” and “laws” and the UK will join Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only non-signatory to the ECHR). In other words, they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Like the suicide pilots flying their plane into the world trade centre they cannot see the obvious insanity of what they are doing and genuinely think they’ll be going to a better place.

Lock em up….by which we mean the kids

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In between picking fights with China, Trump has been busy locking up kids in cages after tearing them out of their the parents arms (what’s the bet he’ll put Roy Moore in charge!). Conditions at the facility where the kids are detained, referred to as the dog kennel, are described as inhumane and equivalent to a prison. Experts warn of the emotional scaring this will inflict. Parallels have been made to concentration camps and the detention of Japanese Americans during world II.

The day you know you’re living in a fascist state is the day you hear your justice secretary (soon to be named ministry for state security) deny he’s running concentration camps. The irony is one of the justifications of the Alex Jones mob for opposing Obama was that he was black was planning to set up FEMA concentration camps.

Oh, and for good measure the US is quitting the UN human rights council. Because clearly the words “human rights” and “America” should not be sharing the same sentence right now, even Trump can figure that one out.

Let’s be clear if you voted for Trump (or voted for a third party in a swing state, which is basically the same thing under the US system) then this is what you voted for. And frankly it shouldn’t surprise anybody, its exactly what was warned would happen if Trump was elected. At least now when reading the history books and you wonder, how could the Germans vote for Hitler, well now you know how and why. And part of the reason why international pressure failed to contain him, wasn’t because Neville Chamberlain was a weak and naïve leader. It was because he was leading a divided Britain, which had more than a few (Daily Mail reading) fascists of its own, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Trump, upon realising that this might not look so well, immediately tried to dodge responsibility, blaming the democrats, the immigrants themselves and pretty much anyone else he could think of. Its worth noting that something similar played out during the holocaust, the Yugoslav civil war and the Rwandan genocide, in which often those in senior roles were separated from the actual atrocities and generally tried to avoid taking responsibility for such things, leaving it to a handful of fanatical racist nut cases to do the dirty deeds. This of course made it so much easier to order more of the same and treat as mere bureaucratic exercise. Forget the lessons of history and they will repeat themselves.

The really big short

Trump’s tariff policy has sent stock markets crashing to the point where all of this years gains have been wiped out. And the main losers won’t be in Wall street, they’ll be ma and pa firms across the US, as well as many ordinary Americans who are about to see their living costs rise in response to these tariffs (you’ll be paying them, not the Chinese). It sounds like typical Trump. He’s not doing it because he thinks its a good idea, its an action driven purely by ego…..

Or is it? Given that Trump has not actually fully separated himself from his businesses (which is illegal btw), we need to consider the possibility that he’s colluding with others, and doing a little bit of insider trading. Its possible to profit from a falling market by shorting the market. If you can correctly guess that the stock of a particular company is going to fall, you can bet on the share price declining (by borrowing shares, selling them at a high price and then buying them back later after the price has fallen).

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However, shorting is a risky business. Its the equivalent of betting that Brazil or Germany were going to lose their opening matches. Now while this will happen occasionally (as indeed happened to Germany….guess they won’t be eating Taco’s for a while!), but the odds are you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. And to make matters worse its possible with short selling to lose more than your original investment if the market moves against you. Hence most traders will often hedge their bets (basically bet both ways, but slightly bet higher one particular way). This reduces the risk, but also the profit margin.

Of course if you have access to insider information, e.g. you are the president and you know there’s a big tax cut coming, or you’re going to impose tariff’s on the EU, then change your mind and then impose them anyway. A trader with advanced knowledge of this could easily adopt short positions and profit considerably from this.

But, not only is it illegal for a president to be in any way linked to these sorts of deals, but insider trading is also illegal and for good reason. Because if you get it wrong (and markets can be difficult to predict, even if you have access to insider information) things can go from bad to catastrophic pretty quickly. Consider how rogue trader Nick Leeson managed to lose over £800 million, wiping out Barings bank.

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Indeed one has to look at Trump’s real estate losses in a new light. People laugh and say oh Trump is such a loser he can lose money running a casino. How can you do that? I mean people literally walk into a casino and hand over their money!

Well, not if your running a casino skim operation. Its possibly that Trump, under pressure from his mob connections, was deliberately running the joint into the ground. Its just they miscalculated. Normally you skim just a little off the top, but not enough anyone will notice, nor that might risk bringing down the racket. But Trump was such a balloon head, or he and his co-conspirators just got too greedy, they managed to bleed the place dry. Which doesn’t bode well if this same lot are at the helm of the US economy.

Enabling fascism

Speaking of fascists, in Italy the populist horseshoe government is split because one of their leaders, looking to emulate Trump, wants to build his own concentration camps….sorry I mean happy camps (I’m sure they’ll come up with a more PC name!). He also wants to count Roma gypsies and presumably make them go around with little stars on them, I mean nothing bad ever happened from doing that. He’s also suggested that an anti-mafia journalist, who criticised him should have his police protection removed.

This has all come as a bit of a shock to a number of 5S voters. But what should it? You enabled a bunch of fascists and helped them into power, now they are enacting fascist policies. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to go door to door handing out milk and cookies?

Its possible that this might bring down the horseshoe government a little earlier than was expected. Which I’d consider a good thing…..if it weren’t for opinion polls suggesting a likely win for the Northern League and Forza Italia (Mr Bunga Bunga’s outfit).

The Glasgow school of art fire

In Scotland the Glasgow School of art burnt down. Designed by Rennie Mackintosh, the Mac, is to Glasgow what the Casa Mila is to Barcelona. This fire occurred just four years after another fire, which destroyed the college library, which was in the process of being rebuilt. Incidentally, lost in the story about the art school fire, was the fact that another important building, the neighbouring ABC theatre, had also burnt down after the fire spread to it.

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Two fires in the space of four years is more than bad luck. Clearly there’s something up with the building in terms of fire safety. My understanding is the contractors for the restoration after the previous fire were on site, so they’ll have some questions to answer.

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The library of the Glasgow school of art, prior to the fire in 2014

But clearly there’s some issues with fire safety that needs to be addressed. And this is not just a problem for the school of art. There’s been several large fires in older buildings in Glasgow and the basic problem is, they ain’t up to current fire codes and need to be modified accordingly. This article discusses some of the issues, although in the context of post-war era buildings, but much of the same policy should be applied to Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. E.g. fitting external fire escapes (as in New York) and sprinklers, fire resistant barriers, etc.

Meanwhile the question now being asked is whether the art school can be rebuilt. Some suggest it might not be feasible, others feel it is possible. We’ll have to see. There will inevitably be a strong desire from the art community and the Scottish government to rebuild it, but some polls suggest there might be opposition from the public, if it costs too much money.

For the moment, given that its basically now a burnt out shell, the best that can be hoped for is facade retention. Which would have to be undertaken quickly, given that its on a hill and exposed to the winds (it probably won’t survive the winter in its current state). Even then if the building were rebuilt, you’d be rebuilding everything inside that retained facade. And as noted, you’d have to modify the design to account for modern fire codes, which would require considerable modification from the original. So it would be more of a replica, rather than the real thing.

The thinking wing nut’s troll

The Toronto academic Jordan Paterson has been in the news recently, largely thanks to an encounter on Channel 4 news earlier this year, which has made him something of an intellectual hero for the alt-right. However, in truth he’s just a slight better inform right wing troll, who engages in many of their same tactics (gish gallop’s, contrarian arguments, weasel words, etc.)

Take this example where he attempts to argue that much as the right is basically anti-liberalism ID politics (his alt-right followers only hearing what they want to hear will have no doubt filtered that out) that the left is basically the same. That many on the left for example only support social welfare programs that they’ll never benefit from due to a similar commitment towards ID politics.

This position combines a number of contrarian arguments based on a falsehoods. It relies on the myth that working class people tend to vote conservative, and its the “champagne socialists” who vote for left wing parties. However, data from both the last UK election and US elections show that those who are working class tend to vote for left wing parties. When those on right try to claim the opposite, they are often forced to use weasel words statements (e.g. focus on white men over 40 in specific states).

But certainly it is true that a certain portion of those on higher incomes do vote for left wing causes. As I happen to be one of those, although real ale socialist would be more accurate, I can tell Mr Patterson my views have nothing to do with ID politics. Its because I understand that I might end up needing that social welfare safety net myself someday. No matter how hard working you are, or how well paid, all it takes is one accident, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy of your employer or misadventure and suddenly you’re in a world of trouble.

For example (and this is just one of many examples I could give), I know a guy back in Ireland, hard worker, used to lead scouting groups, took a fall at work one day. He seemed to be fine after a few days, but as the months and years passed he developed ever worse back problems (not unusual for these to take time to surface) and eventually he had to give up work. Now if we take the right at its word, he should be dragged to the side of the street and left to die just because he had the misfortune to have an accident that wasn’t his fault (should you wonder why he hasn’t sued, his employer went bust during the crash and it was only a small building firm anyway, there won’t have been any money to sue for).

That’s all it takes to ruin your income. I wonder if Mr Paterson has paused to consider what would happen to him if he, or one of his relatives, were to fall ill and need expensive medical treatment, which his HMO wasn’t willing to cover (pre-existing conditions and all that). In fact I know of a lecturer who found himself in this very situation. A relative got ill and he had to drop everything, give up his well paid job and fly home to Pakistan. Now while last I heard he’d gotten a part time job over there, but I’m going to hazard a guess its paid a lot less than a lecturing post in the UK. And given his likely outgoings I suspect he’s probably only just about managing. Voting in favour of social welfare is not ID politics, its basic common sense.

Indeed perhaps more the question is why is it that some, notably those over 40’s blue collar workers don’t vote for left wing parties. I would argue that this stems from a long instilled ideology of rugged individualism (you’re considered less of a man if you ask for help), as well as the usual right wing lies and propaganda. And more crucially this tendency does tend to be growing (while those on lower income tended to vote overwhelmingly for left wing candidates by at least 80/20, now its closer to 60/40). So its more a sign of desperation and frustration than meaning an increase in support for the politics of the right. Which perhaps isn’t surprising given how the right doesn’t really have a political philosophy anymore, other than “anti-liberalism”.

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The calm rational logic of Trump voters

But either way, the only real difference between Mr Paterson and Alex Jones (and they are both believers in the paranormal, living on wing nut welfare, which kind of makes his point regard social welfare more than a little hypocritical), is that Paterson knows how not to look and sound like a nut, even when he’s saying pretty crazy things.

The Wakanda conundrum

I came across an interesting little video on youtube, which discuss the Wakanda conundrum. For those who didn’t see the movies (Black Panther, age of infinity), or don’t read comic books, Wakanda is a small yet highly advanced African country which has kept itself hidden from the world for many centuries (for reasons we won’t get into right now). It owes its formation to the arrival of a meteorite from space made of a strange and nearly indestructible metal. As a result its now extremely wealthy and century’s ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

So what’s the problem? Well there’s simply no way such a society could exist. No matter how valuable this resource is, without trading with the outside world (and thus sharing ideas and technology) they’d struggle to figure out how to exploit it. And without trading this resource, they’d never be able to earn any cash from it and thus never be able to buy in the stuff they’d need to exploit the resource and develop their economy. In short the economic policy of Wakanda is basically the same as that of North Korea, and they ain’t exactly the richest country in the world, nor the most advanced (I’m sure Trump would tell you differently tho!).

And speaking of which, the government of Wakanda is an absolute monarchy, with kings picked by barbaric fights (okay, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of politicians fighting over whose in charge, its not that much different maybe). The problem with such a system is all it takes is one bad king to ruin everything. And essentially, that’s the plot of the Black Panther film, but they ignore the consequences of that.

Then there’s the matter of the so-called “resource curse”, which means that small countries with valuable resources can sometimes end up worse off than countries without any. While this doesn’t apply in every situation, Iceland and Norway or Bahrain, for example. But generally countries tend to only avoid the resource curse so long as they’ve got open borders, good trade and a reasonably free society and competent government. Inevitably Wakanda would hit the buffers sooner or later and descent into a corrupt, autocratic mess.

And the other problem with having resources is it tends to draw attention to you. African dictators surrounding Wakanda, not to mention western colonists (notably the Belgians), would soon learn of it and be very quick to swoop in and try to take over the country. And given how in the last film the Wakandian army got the snot kicked out of them by a large pack of dogs, I doubt they’d be able to hold off an invasion, regardless of how advanced their technology.

Uber scooters

A number of silicon valley based firms have begun to set up dockless bike and scooter hire schemes. The logic is, rather than the traditional bike hire schemes, where bikes are picked up and dropped off at designated spots (which can mean trucks rolling around transporting bikes from docking station to docking station). Instead, the system is more free flowing. You pick up the bikes wherever you find one (a mobile phone app directs you to the nearest one) and then leave it wherever you are when you’re finished. Simple!

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So what’s the problem? Well many of these schemes are being set up by companies without the support of local governments and councils. This is causing all sorts of problems, from people riding bikes and electric scooters on pavements, then abandoning them in the middle of the pavement, where they represent a trip hazard, particularly for blind people.

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I think this is a good idea that needs to be developed more, indeed I’d be curious to see if its possible to marry this idea with current car sharing schemes. However, clearly there needs to be some sort of regulation. Frankly the operators of these schemes are lucky councils didn’t just classify all of their scooters as litter and bin them (then fine the company for waste disposal), which is actually what happened in China. No doubt these rules would specify where the bikes and scooters could be used and that where they can be left (if not at designated docking points, then off the pavement and parked neatly). Presumably a system of fines imposed (and/or penalty points) on those who break the rules might bring some discipline to the situation. So it would be a good idea for these firms to start working with local authorities, rather than trying to go the whole uber.

So long and thanks for all the fish

The one shining reason for brexit we were told was the fish. The fish, dear god will someone think of the fish! Those poor fishermen, Farage said as he cried crocodile tears. Well, aside from the fact that this ignored the realities of how trade deals work, and that the Tories have already screwed the fishermen over, there’s a more specific problem – the fish are moving.

As a result of climate change North sea cod and north Atlantic cod are migrating northward out of UK waters and into Scandinavian waters. You would think the Scandinavians would be delighted about this, but they aren’t. Their preferred fish is the Arctic cod and the increasing presence of North Atlantic cod is not only making fishing difficult for them, but threatens the long term viability of their industry. While I’m not much of a fish eater, I’m told by those who do that there’s a distinct difference in taste between the two types and that as a result, the Arctic cod is considered a more valuable product. So you can see the problem. Its issues like this that underline the need for action on climate change.

One possible temporary fix would be for the Faroese, Greenland, Norwegian and Icelandic governments to agree to let EU boats into their waters (for a fee of course) to catch the North Atlantic cod and basically take em back down south. Of course given that the UK is leaving the EU, its inevitable we’ll be cut out of any such deal. Given that all are part of the single market, its going to make a lot more sense to deal with the EU than the UK. So it looks like the UK isn’t even going to get a smoked kipper out of post-brexit fishing deals.

Free range parenting

I got into a discussion on another blog recently about how parents are becoming increasingly controlling of their kids, so called helicopter parenting, and how this wasn’t a good idea. Well now its official. A study from America suggests that overly controlling parents can lead to behaviour problems.

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I’d argue the problems go much further. We end up with students in university, who are used to having every little obstacle swept out of their way and thus haven’t learnt how to strike a work life balance or think for themselves. Its long been my observation, as both a student and a lecturer, that students from the strictest parenting background tend to be the ones who become complete tear away’s in uni.

They’ll show up in the first week of term dressed like a Mormon, or in full islamic dress, but by the end of the first semester they’re complete party animals (for whom breakfast consists of peeling last night’s pizza off their face before eating it), who start missing classes and falling behind. By contrast those from more “liberal” backgrounds (who’ve already learnt how to manage their time and say no to a night out) are able to maintain focus. And they tend to be the ones more likely to drop out, not least because it can sometimes turn out that their parents picked the course and uni for them, which turned out to be something (or somewhere) they didn’t want to study.

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In contrast to this is so-called free range parenting. Rather than for example, walking the kids to school, parents take the view, well he/she knows what time classes start, they know how to get there, so its the kids responsibility to get up on time and get there. If they don’t, its going to be a steep learning curve. While there are merits to this, there are problems with it, not least of possible legal issues.

But my view is that parents need to think of the long term impact of what they are doing. While you have to have some rules and boundaries with kids, if you don’t give them some level of independence, they’ll never learn it. Then you are stuck with them living at home and you have to get them evicted. Birds won’t leave the nest if they don’t learn how to fly.

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The bursting of the London property bubble

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Property prices in the UK are now clearly on a downward trend, notably around London. Since the brexit vote, they’ve fallen by 15%. With Europeans being attacked on the London underground for daring to speak a foreign language, and even some of the windrush generation, who came to Britain over fifty years ago being told to go home by the government, its perhaps no surprise that this will have a knock effect on house prices. The expectation is that this is not a blip but we’ll see a slump in prices lasting at least five years.

At face value this would appear to be the one bit of good news you could draw from brexit. Property prices in London are massively inflated, largely because of investors (from home and abroad) who’ve been buying up London properties and using them as gambling chips in a casino. In some cases they don’t even bother renting the property out. And some of the money is almost certainly of questionable origins, the spoils of criminal enterprise, or money stolen from the state coffers in various countries around the world. Its one of the things that makes London the money laundering capital of the world.

However, prices would have to drop by rather a lot to make them affordable to first time buyers. To even have a chance of getting a mortgage in the UK you need to be able to put up a 10% deposit. So for the average UK house price of £200,000, or closer to £500,000 in London, it means you need to have between £20,000-50,000 in savings. This is well beyond what many first time buyers can afford. And furthermore, that is the MINIMUM amount that stops the mortgage broker laughing in your face (then having his goons roll you down the stairs), and actually given you a chance of getting a mortgage. To give yourself some leeway when buying and to get a good mortgage deal (plus leaving an overhead to allow for home improvements) you’d really want at least double this £40k – 100k or about $55k – $140k in cash.

And that’s assuming you can find a house where the broker is willing to wait around for you to go and get a mortgage. One of the problems with the UK property market, particularly around London, is that properties can go very quickly. I’ve seen ads for houses which state that those looking to pay with a mortgage need not apply, as the broker would rather just sell it quickly to an investor to use it as a gambling chip, rather than Mr Joe public to use as a home.

So while the crash has helped a little bit, for most first time buyers it hardly matters. And of course if you are selling your home for some reason, then this is all very bad news. For example, let suppose you bought a London flat at the peak of the boom, but now need to sell it (as you’re moving overseas for example). You put down a £75,000 deposit on say a £500,000 flat. Well that flat will now sell for closer to £425,000 meaning that once the bank’s been paid off you’ve lost all of your initial deposit, plus all the various fees on top that (and several months of mortgage payments, about £24,000 a year for a flat like this). So we’re talking fairly significant losses here, more than your original investment. And spare a thought for those with Grenfell tower style cladding, who’ve now been told homes they bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds are now worth a mere fraction of that.

While brexit is at least part of the trigger for popping the bubble, others argue that recent changes to stamp duty are also responsible. However, those changes were brought in to try and bring some sanity to the property market and get out of the scenario of them being kept empty and unused. And in that regard the plan does seem to have worked. Indeed a committee of MP’s recently even suggested the radical step of taking flats off rogue landlords.

And even if it were true, like all bubbles the UK property bubble was going to pop eventually. To draw an analogy we have a warehouse made of timber crammed with oil soaked rags and one night a mouse dislodges a bolt which causes a spark, which burns the place to the ground. This is the equivalent of blaming the mouse for causing the fire.

The immediate losers of this crisis are likely to be estate agents, the least liked and most distrusted profession in the UK (after politicians). The high turnover and high fees they are used to are now evaporating, so quite a few of them will be on the way down to the jobs centre. I suspect few tears will be shed.

The wealthy overseas property investors are unlikely to lose out immediately, as they bought some time ago, so prices would have to fall quite a bit to mean they hit their squeal point. And also the whole reason why they are investing in UK property is because if they cashed out and took the money home they’d get themselves arrested. So its not really their money that’s at risk in the first place. Either way, a property bear market is more likely than a sudden sharp correction. Meaning that we could be waiting sometime for any recovery.

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Abandoned building sites are starting to become a feature of some British cities

The exact scale of the problem is difficult to judge as we simply don’t know how much money was committed to UK property speculation and by whom. There are several high profile projects where construction has ground to a halt. Someone who works in the city told me about a pitch event she attended where they were selling London property bonds. Naturally, she fled the room pretty quickly (after helping herself to the free booze of course!) when she realised they were basically selling unhedged commodity speculation, which is generally illegal because its possible to lose more than your original investment (as the example I gave earlier illustrates). However, such funds did take in quite a bit of cash and its unclear where the blow back for this will emerge.

Keep in mind that last year China’s credit rating was downgraded when it became clear similar schemes existing in China and it was unclear how much money had been gambled and who was going to get to left without a chair when the music stopped. Of course, the real reason why China got downgraded is that they didn’t go to the right school, or know the secret handshake. So its unlikely the UK will be downgraded. But that just means that any crisis that emerges from this mess will be all the more sudden and damaging.

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The real reason for the housing crisis? The UK basically stopped building affordable homes in the Thatcher era

So it is difficult to see any positives out of this mess. If past events are anything to go by, we’ll see rents go down for a few years (until the expected rise of interest rates works its way through the system and pushes them back up again). But in the mean time home owners will struggle to sell. The main buyers will likely be corporations looking to build up a large portfolio of property to rent. With builders getting burned, there will be a halt to further construction of homes, which means that further down the line once the crash has run its course, there will be a shortage of housing. All in all the UK housing crisis will just get worse.

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What this crisis shows is that a laissez-faire approach to housing, relying on the magic of the market, isn’t going to work. The old policy of urban planning, possibly wedded to new ideas of how to design urban areas, needs to be pursued again.

What the Dickens are they up too

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I’ve long accused the Tories of trying to take the UK back to the Victorian era. However, already the UK is starting to resemble a Dickensian novel, where the poor are downtrotten and robber baron fat cats run amok, unchecked by government.

An Englishman’s home…is his landlord’s castle

Consider a recent report, which described how one third of those renting property in the UK are living in homes that fail basic health and safety standards. And more often than not it is those on lower incomes that are the most likely to experience these problems. Why don’t they report these rogue landlords? Because given that UK laws favour the landlord, nothing generally happens, other than you getting evicted.

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Some examples of the appalling conditions UK tenants are forced to put up with…and still pay rent!

Should you ask, well why don’t they just go out and buy a home? Well because you’d need money for a deposit first. And one of the consequences of Tory policies over the last few years is that many UK workers are now chronically insecure financially, literally living pay cheque to pay cheque. A quarter have serious money troubles. Food banks use has continued to rise, indeed they’ve seen a 45 fold increase (yes 45 times higher) in use since the Tories came to power.

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Usage of food banks, has increased every year since the Tories have been in power….

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….primarily driven by low income and benefits sanctions

And its not as if there are homes out there that could be rented (or sold), indeed large numbers of UK homes are currently unoccupied, over a 100,000 have been empty for ten years or more. And tens of thousands of luxury flats in London are also being built, to lie empty.

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The fact is that there’s a housing crisis in the UK because back in the Thatcher era, the UK stopped building social houses and sold off most of its stock. While the labour government did try to do something, they didn’t really try hard enough (remember there was a boom, housing seem to be taking care of itself, they didn’t understand it was all just a bubble). Now we’re returning to the normal state of affairs. And given that the only people who can afford to buy homes are those with well paid jobs, or spiv’s and speculators, who see homes as merely gambling chips in a casino, the end result is the dickensian mess we see in the UK housing sector, something Grenfell tower merely highlights.

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UK workers have seen their income decline and are one of only three countries where people are still worse off than they were prior to 2007…and the only one worse is Greece!….

And even those with mortgages might be in trouble. To cope with the financial crisis quite a number of people switched to interest only mortgages. But now they are being warned they might not have the capital to pay off the mortgage, meaning they could face eviction.

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….and Greece is set to solve its deficit problems before the UK!

Life on the streets

And spare a thought for those who are homeless already. One undeniable fact, since the Tories came to power, the number of rough sleepers has increased. Which is again not surprising given the state of the housing market and the finances of many in the UK. But also given the horrible mean and degrading way the Tories are now running the welfare system. We have people facing sanctions, for no apparent reason, or even for simply attending a funeral, often because benefits officers have a perverse incentive to issue them.

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And the Tory response to all this? Far from trying to make things better they are literally playing their favourite game of kick the beggar. Increasingly the homeless in the UK are facing harassment, by for example councils robbing their blankets and clothes, playing loud music to get them to move on, or buying them one way tickets to no where.

And they show no sympathy for those on benefits, indeed they are practically dancing a jig over their plight, seeing it as class revenge for voting for labour (much like how Trumps tax policy is essentially class revenge on the working class for Obama).

Raiders of the lost pension fund

And unfortunately it will come as little surprise to learn that at the same time the directors at Carillon were running their company into the ground, while awarding themselves large bonuses for doing so, they were also skimping on the company pension scheme. This is a theme that is becoming increasingly common across the UK, a failing companies run by managers who see their employee’s hard earned retirement cash as their personal piggy bank, to be raided any time they feel like it. After all, that Rolls ain’t going to buy itself.

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Carillion bosses ignored a growing pension’s deficit and still paid out dividends to shareholders….and bonuses to themselves

And its not just pension funds. Its not uncommon for the government, be it the local council, inland revenue or customs and excise to be the ones to pull the plug on a failing company, usually for non payment of taxes (business rates, VAT, employee’s PAYE, etc.). Libertarians sometimes cite this as an example of how the big bad evil government crushes businesses. But its a contrarian argument that amounts to advocating legalised theft. After all employees of the firm will have seen their salaries deducted (to cover tax and pension contributions) and customers will have paid VAT and trusted the firm to pass that money on, only for the boss to put it in his pocket. I mean if you or I took money out of the company petty cash box and left an IOU in its place, how many seconds before we’d be fired and the cops called?

Yet it would appear company bosses can basically do the same thing without consequences. Indeed, one of the favourite tactics of the infamous Kray twins was to buy up failing businesses (usually pubs or nightclubs) and basically run the business into the ground, not paying any tax (VAT on alcohol being a large part of any bar’s turnover), buying booze in the front door on the company accounts, then selling it out the back door for half the price. Then when their line of credit ran dry, they just walked away (or burn the place down for the insurance money). In effect that seems to be how a number of UK companies are now run. If the Kray’s had simply done what they did on a larger scale, say bought a chain of elderly care homes and run them into the ground instead, they’d be in the house of lords by now.

And not only is it often left to the state to pick up the pieces when a company fails, but by the time they send in the bailiff’s there’s usually nothing left, so the exchequer is left out of pocket. A bill the honest tax payers are forced to pay. So when I say libertarians are advocating theft, its ordinary taxpayers who are getting their pockets picked. And the costs of these bailouts are starting to mount. Many councils now report they are on the verge of bankruptcy. A recent audit revealed that the UK’s pension protection fund (PPF), set up as a sort of insurance policy against some sort of economic crash bringing down multiple pension funds at once is now basically insolvent, owing more than its assets to the tune of £104 billion. Or about 2.5 EU exits.

Exit through the wingnut shop

And how goes the Tories snake oil cure to all ills? Well a recently leaked report shows that no matter which way you cut it, the UK will be worse off.

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Of course the brexiters said, that’s nonsense, why this report didn’t analyse the deluded crack smoking fantasybespoke” trade deal they prefer. An option, that the EU more or less ruled out, when it set the ground rules for the UK trade negotiations and the terms of any transition. Brussels was unusually blunt and to the point on this, something that you’d assume would set off the brexiters into a massive foaming at the mouth tirade (given that it essentially means the UK will lose all influence over the EU, yet still have to pay into EU coffers). But the day after this announcement the pro-brexit papers barely mentioned it (which like the brexit bill, should tell you they’re going to just roll over and accept it).

Indeed, while the EU took almost no time to agree its position on the terms of any post-brexit trade deal (it took 2 minutes to pass), Theresa May has still not set out her position and the government still hasn’t got its flagship plagiarise all those EU laws we campaigned against great repeal bill passed.

Oh, and Boris now wants a bridge over the channel, even thought that’s basically a logistical impossibility (it was one of the options considered in place of the channel tunnel, but quickly dismissed as unfeasible). And it was joked a few months back that the DUP would be looking for an extension of the Giant’s causeway to Scotland. Well no, but they do want a bridge to Scotland now. Yes, reality in the UK is starting to outrun satire.

At this point, you would think it would be a slam dunk that Corbyn’s going to be elected to power by a Tony Blair style landslide. In fact you’d wonder why he isn’t going around number ten with a measuring tape working out where he’s going to put his stuff.

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Labour do lead in the polls, but not by much

However, there’s two problems with that. One, he’s a tool, who can’t even get his own party to support him, let alone the country. And secondly, the Tories are kept in power by a large body of “swivel eyed loons”, to quote one Tory MP, who “….are mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school-aged children or caring responsibilities….”.

So unfortunately, don’t expect the Tory train wreck to stop any time soon, not until the country’s fallen completely off the tracks, which will be all Corbyn’s and the labour party’s fault (not forgetting migrants), of course.

Weekly Roundup

The country that went out into the cold….

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Meanwhile Cameron was in Norway this week to discuss trade. Of course this also led to some reflecting on how much of what is said by the UKIP brigade about how much better off we’d be outside the EU (like Norway) is basically bolix. Does Norway have less issues with Immigration? Quite the opposite if anything in fact! There’s been a recent trend of migrants and refugee’s using a loophole to simply cycle across the border from Russia and entering Norway legally. And of course Switzerland also has many issues with immigration, indeed the swiss are actually a minority in their own country in some districts.

Does Norway have less trouble with them pesky EU regulations?….actually, no they just rubber stamp and sign up to anything the EU passes, they have no right of veto or even a right to discuss such measures. But it costs them less money than actually being a member? Well marginally, the estimate is the UK would still end up paying 94% of what it currently pays, once the costs of EU inspection and regulation are accounted for (like Norway, we’ll be paying eurocrats to come over and make sure we’re obeying the EU’s trade rules). And once the inevitable drop in GDP (of 3-14%) is accounted for, one assumes that would probably make the country much worse off.

Meanwhile Cameron’s secret “negotiations” with the EU seem to have come a little unstuck, after several EU leaders claimed they still hadn’t a clue what changes he’s actually after….presumably whatever cosmetic changes he can get to hoodwink the tabloids into supporting a Yes vote one assumes.

Also this week the US again reiterated the point that Brexit would invalidate all US trade deals with the country. The UK would therefore need to renegotiate such deals, and its doubtful they’d get the same generous terms as the EU has managed. Now to anyone with half a brain this should be obvious. I’ve pointed this out myself several times and this isn’t even the first time the Americans have said this, nor that they’ve expressed disquiet at the idea of Brexit.

However, Farage and the UKIP bigot brigade in Mr Men land don’t seem to be aware of this. They’ve been working under the delusion (one could draw parallels to some of the SNP’s pre-independence delusions, such as automatically becoming an EU member and keeping the pound) that somehow the US will reward Britain’s efforts to destabilise the NATO alliance and harm transatlantic trade by lavishing gifts on the British.

Farage even went so far to accuse the US official in question of being a paid stooge of some shadowy pro-EU conspiracy. Now ignoring the fact that, as mentioned, this is not the first time the US has pointed this out. There is also a certain hypocrisy given that Farage himself is in the pay of various shadowy hedge fund types who plan to profit from the chaos Brexit will unleash.

The Hungry for power games

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The Hunger for power games in the US continues, with the first two cannon’s of resignation fired. This came in the wake of the democratic debate, where it became evident that this is clearly a two horse race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, leading to two of the trailing candidates dropping out.

Meanwhile, in the GOP debate, an attempt by Jeb Bush to cut Marco Rubio down to size failed rather spectacularly. Donald “only a few million” Trump (he’s been telling a story about how he had to work his way up because his father would only led him “a few million” to get started) has now slipped in the polls and is trailing Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon…..who constantly looks and sounds like someone who conducted brain surgery on himself. Basically if you think Trump is bad, wait till you hear Ben Carson.

The GOP debate has to stand in stark contrast to the democratic party debate (the only time anyone brought up Benghazi et al, was when Bernie Sanders said he was sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn e-mails”). Which means that on the plus side, its very likely that after the Republicans have finished knocking chunks out of each other, they is less chance of whoever they put forward getting elected.

Argie hypocrisy

You may recall how the Top Gear team were chased out of Argentina over a number plate that seemed to allude to the Falklands war? Well the Argentinians are reopening the case. Are they going to put on trial the “war veterans(many in there twenties who fought in a war thirty years ago!) who attacked the BBC crew and burnt their cars? No, they are going after Clarkson for altering the number plate as they attempted to flee the country. Needless to say this stinks of hypocrisy. One wonders what Interpol will make of it when they ring up. “What you want us to arrest Clarkson for a minor offence regarding a number plate? Ya, why don’t we arrest him for being an arse in a denim free zone while we’re at it?

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source http://jalopnik.com/more-proof-the-original-offensive-top-gear-license-plat-1644835449 points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

Also I don’t think the Argentinians understand how this plays out for neutrals. I mean personally, I can’t fathom why the Brit’s nor the Argie’s want the Islands. There is oil in the seas nearby, yes, but I’d argue this is a separate claim’s issue. But instead the Argentinians constantly choose to come across as them being bonkers mad. Ultimately one is forced to ask the question who should control the Falklands, the nutters who foam at the mouth and scream Malvina’s whenever some mentions the Falklands, or the people who are already there (okay, not very sane either, they seem to have this strange thing for Maggie Thatcher…and sheep!)

Every now and then a retired UK Admiral will pop up and say how its impossible now for the UK to protect the Island thanks to recent spending cuts. However I would argue that the Argentinian behaviour on this issue (not just Top Gear, but their defacto blockade of the Island) has now so alienated neutrals that the fact is, it doesn’t matter. Even if the UK failed to protect the Islands they would likely find their western allies taking the UK’s side. Argentina would face sanctions similar to those Russia’s been hit by, except that Argentina isn’t Russia (no oil) and its economy would quickly collapse. No doubt a US carrier battle group would soon show up to conduct “exercises” (Operation Handball?).

In short the British military won’t have to do anything, it would be just a matter of time before the Argentinians retreated with their tail between their legs. And they would have no one to blame but themselves.

Lording it over

Normally the house of lords is the sort of place you expect to more or less rubber stamp the legislation of a Tory government. However this week instead, they chose to reject Osborne’s attempts to emulate Thatcher’s poll tax by cutting working tax credits.

This is a rare, but entirely justified action by the upper house. The Tories went through the election repeatedly claiming that they won’t touch tax credits, yet blink and they were cutting them within a few months. Obviously if the Tories have now moved so far to the right that a bunch of hereditary rich guy’s think they are going too far, this should serve as a warning of how far they’ve drifted from the centre ground.

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Cameron is now talking about expanding the upper house to stack it with pro-Tory peers. Already the Lords has over 800 peers, even thought the seating capacity of the chamber is closer to at most 400. What’s he going to do, find a few hundred right-wing dwarves? High ho, high ho, its off to cut we go, with a hovel and a pick pig and a racist shit….

While I agree that there is a need for some serious reform of the House of Lords, this means cutting the number of peers and making it more democratically accountable, not stacking it with more old rich guys.

Tampon Tax

Finally, we come to the “Tampon Tax. While pistachio nuts and Jaffa cakes are subject to no VAT (because they are seen to be essentials) tampon’s are instead taxed. If ever you wanted to see evidence of how chauvinistic this government is its this. Presumably its never occurred to Cameron why his wife is always running to the bathroom and a little anxious about once a month or so.

Weekly Roundup

Getting it wrong on the refugee crisis

The Tories have looked on the growing crisis over refugees not as a humanitarian crisis that they need to pull their weight on, but as a cynical opportunity. They’ve been suggesting that the masses of migrants proves that there is a need to restrict the movement of people across EU borders.

However this amounts to muddling up two distinctly different issues. Internal migration between EU countries by workers, which the British benefit from, being able to travel to other EU states for work (or retirement in Spain or Southern France) and external migration from outside the EU.

Certainly some of those coming across the Med are not refugees but economic migrants and yes they are exploiting a lack of EU co-ordination on this issue. However the solution is more co-operation by EU states on this, a common policy on migrants, and agreement to share migrants and a firmer policy towards returning non-refugee’s home, particularly if they break the rules (such as breaking into the channel tunnel or arriving illegally by boat). So in many respect’s the Tories and UKIP have got it ass backwards.

However, if the Tories think they can use this to argue for changes to internal EU travel, think again. The Germans, who have taken in far more than any other EU state are very clear that unless they see some movement on Cameron’s part to take on his fair share of the burden, then the British can forget about any form of renegotiation.

The UK reported to the UN over disability cuts

And speaking of human rights violations, the UK is now being investigated by the UN for possible human rights violations over its welfare reform policies. It is alleged that these are discriminatory towards those with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately worse than any from the recent cuts to welfare. Figures released last week by the DWP that thousands of claimants died within weeks of being declared “fit for work.

So on second thoughts, maybe the Syrians shouldn’t come here. If IDS and Osborne keep this up we might have the disabled and unemployed sneaking onto trucks to Calais to try and claim asylum from a British government, who discriminates and persecutes them!

Shot on Camera

Of course a shocking story over the last week was the shooting death of a journalist and cameraman live on air, in the US. This inevitably lead to more calls for Gun control, which politicians, afraid of the gun lobby, promptly ignored.

Of course the usual reaction of the gun lobby is to suggest that the solution to a crazy person with a gun is to encourage more carrying of guns by people to defend themselves…like in the wild west, how did that one work out? Indeed, studies have shown that regions with concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun crime.

But returning to the wild west, there-in lie the problem, in those days many towns far from encouraging the carrying of firearms actually had quite strict laws against the carrying of guns, often requiring for example that guns be deposited at the sheriff’s office as people came into town (he’d issue them with a receipt). The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral came about when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (who had been deputised by the town council) attempted to enforce local gun control laws.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. And now the gun lobby will hide behind lawyers and lobbyists rather than settle things “like men” as it were. Perhaps the Ok Corral would have worked out differently if the Clanton’s had their lawyer in tow?

Oddly enough thought, the Republicans seem keen on allowing guns in some places…but not others, such as Republican rallies, the G. W. Bush library and (irony of ironies) all Trump hotels and golf courses.

Osama Bin Corbyn

You know your opponents are getting desperate when they start making stuff up. Take Carmichael and his Ferrero Rocher” allegations against Nichola Sturgeon.

Well now there’s ludicrous claims regarding Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made after Bin Laden’s assassination. He said at the time that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden wasn’t captured and brought back for trial in New York. However, it was implied by the right wing media that he said that Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy (leaving out the second half of the sentence). Quite clearly Corybn’s opponents have been going over his past with a fine toothed coob looking for anything that might be used to smear him….even if its not true!

Of course, there are many who would agree with Corbyn, and not necessarily the usual leftie tree hugger types. But in reality it was no surprise really that they killed him. Given that Bin Laden used to work for the CIA, the US didn’t want him showing up in court and pointing this inconvenient little truth out and dishing out the dirt on the US.

Old big nose is back

And speaking or right wing hatchet jobs, Rebekah “Sideshow” Brooks has apparently got her old job back. So much as predicted, the Murdoch’s have gotten away with this scot free, despite admissions by Brooks herself to bribing police.

A shed load of rent

As the London property bubble continues there’s been a new trend in London, the renting out of shed’s as converted “studio” flats. One prospective tenant showed up at a apartment to find his “double bedroom” was a shed in the lounge. Meanwhile wholesale “social cleansing” continues across the city. Hence why there is an urgent need for measures to ease the problem, such as rent controls and greater building of social housing.

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.