Saturday entertainment

Which is the most embarrassing celeb-heavy ‘game-show’ put on by the BBC on a Saturday night?

It’s a tough one. “That Puppet Game Show” is like the Muppets with all of the jokes and interesting characters removed (using extreme force) and replaced with the most pointless games imaginable – Punching out lights on a jumpsuit? Grabbing hot-dogs in musical order? Then there was the excruciating banter.

But “I Love My Country” is serious competition. A house band led by Jamelia, who are more painful than Glen Ponder and ‘Chalet’ ever were. Equally pointless games – Hangman with additional pork-pie-on-a-map, for criminy’s sake! And that wheel thing at the end. It’s enough to provoke treason if this is how you are supposed to ‘love’ your country.

I know that ITV have put out some absolute shockers (Red or Black being the most expensive waste of everyone’s time to date), and generally the trend nowadays is to make Saturday nights on TV so atrocious and so celeb-laden, but what are the people commissioning this dross thinking?

I can’t believe I’m actually reminiscing with fondness about Total Wipeout.

To those who may have noticed this post after a huge long gap, well, sorry, I’ve been a bit busy. Since I last posted I got married and changed employer while supervising the selection process for Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Rugby for 2015, and also started getting a little more serious about my hobbies of running and gaming. Sorry to break my silence with a moan, but it’s the most annoying thing today – more than the breaking of two garden forks or the discovery of a leak from the bath overflow.

Seeing the Wood for the Trees – before they’re flogged off

A recent article on the proposed sale of Forestry Commission land on LibCon seems to have revealed a far more far-reaching attack on Parliamentary democracy by the government. The amount to be sold in England over the next few years is about 100,000 acres, which is 15% of current holdings. However, they want to sell far more – potentially over 500,000 acres (leaving only about 10-20% not privatised). The reason that they cannot do that right now is down to existing law that restricts the sale or externalisation of the bulk of the public forestry estate.

To get around this, a series of extra powers on forestry have been added to a bill has that has been raised in the House of Lords by Baron Taylor of Holbeach, called the Public Bodies Bill (PBB). This Bill itself goes far beyond just forestry, and it gives Ministers at Westminster (or at the devolved assemblies/parliaments) powers to order abolition, merger or constitutional changes to huge swathe of organisations. Read the rest of this entry »

One step forward, two steps back

I noticed this story on the local Observer website this week: High demand for debt help about a Rugby-based Christian charity that are reporting a large increase in people coming to them for help on debt. The recession has hit people hard, and the programme of spending cuts (which means job cuts) and the recent increase in VAT are combining to squeeze people who are already struggling.

So it is great that there are organisations out there to help.

However, since I saw that story, two more things have come to light that will make it much harder for people in debt to get help. Firstly, the Tory-led government has axed funding for debt advice. The Financial Inclusion Fund cost £130million. But in the last 5 years it has helped:

• 379,000 people manage more than £6bn of debt.

• 3,000 families stay in their homes, resulting in a £150m saving to the courts and mortgage lenders in court and repossession costs.

• create an estimated £700m in annual cost savings for the NHS because of avoided mental health problems and stress.

• creditors recover an estimated £300m more of their debt than they would have recovered without the service.

Secondly, reports are coming in from across the country that local Citizens Advice Bureaux are facing possible closure, such as in Birmingham, due to local councils hacking away at grants to local voluntary groups as they try to deal with the effects of Eric Pickles’ 28% reduction in funding. CABs spend much of their time dealing with people who have debt problems. As much as they have been trying to diversify their funding so they are not wholly dependent on council grants, now is really not the time to pull the rug.

As much as the Tories in Westminster talk about the ‘Big Society’, they are undermining the voluntary sector with their deep and early cuts and trying to pass the blame down to local councils. When it comes to dealing with debt, it’s important to ensure that people have access to advice and support, because very often a little help can go a long way to avoiding bankruptcy and homelessness.

No wonder that Phil Redmond has become disillusioned with the ‘Big Society’ project. Projects like Rugby’s CAP are going to have to pick up all the of slack when the cuts hit other agencies. I just hope that they can cope. Because the real losers will be those who are already suffering from debt problems.

Child Benefit lunacy

Ah, those clever Tories, eh? They certainly know how to run a country. When the came up with the idea to ‘remove’ Child Benefit from higher rate taxpayers, the question was how? It soon became clear that what was actually going to happen was that they wanted to reduce the tax threshold for higher rate taxpayers who were parents in receipt of CB to recoup the money.

This led to further simple questions about how it would work, such as how you can tell without having full details of who was living with who, what happened if both parents were higher rate taxpayers, how people who were on the borderline would be dealt with if it takes a while to get tax returns in…

Seems that one way to deal with these pesky questions is to write a letter to every higher-rate taxpayer to ask them if they or their partner receives Child Benefit. Apparently if you don’t ‘fess up, you can be fined, but having to write to 4 million people suggests that they don’t actually know who to go after. Something tells me this policy is dissolving into farce already.

It would have been far simpler to either increase tax for all higher-rate payers (to avoid changing the 40% rate, simply reduce the threshold a bit), or to change CB by including it into the Tax Credits system. But no, the Tories had to make a headline announcement during Conference, and so a stupid idea was born.

Posted in Politics. Tags: , , . 2 Comments »

I knew Osborne was an idiot, but…

Yesterday I saw the news about the Child Benefit changes and thought of an instant reaction. However, I decided to leave it a bit and think about it before posting.

In the meantime, of course, the middle classes are in outcry (strangely it’s overshadowed the £500 pw maximum for all benefits), and the Mail and Telegraph have followed their readers in outrage.

So the Tories have added insult to injury and restated their intention to have transferable allowances for married couples, with the implicit idea that it would be extended to balance out the Child Benefit changes. Which is itself also a clumsy idea and isn’t immediately clearly fair.

Basically, single parents on over £44,000 will lose out the most. Married childless couples where one earns loads and the other doesn’t work at all will gain the most. In between will be all sorts of situations where whether you gain or lose will depend less on household income and more on how close you are to the ‘traditional family’ ideal.

The oddest thing is that Child Benefit will still be being paid to the same people as before. All that will happen is that people above and around the threshold for the 40% Income Tax band will have their PAYE code altered in all sorts of ways to claw the money back. And as we saw last month, HMRC doesn’t have any problems with the PAYE system.

Oh. Well, apart from all the problems they have with the PAYE system resulting in loads of over- and under- payments going back years.

I thought that the removal of the 10% band by Gordon Brown in his 2007 budget was cack-handed, but this is ridiculous.

Posted in Politics. Tags: , , , . 5 Comments »

Council Tax cowardice

Today’s announcement from the Government was that they would ‘delay’ a Council Tax revaluation for England until after the next election. Of course, it turns out that they weren’t actually doing anything that Labour hadn’t promised to do – the manifesto for the 2010 election stated explicitly that no revaluation would happen in this Parliament if Labour won.

But Pickles is not averse to talking total arse for political gain, and the Tories would have wanted to do something after recent polls saw them slipping and Labour coming level, before the leader is chosen and the Conference starts. “New Politics” seems to be the same old spin, huh?

There were scare stories a few years ago that a revaluation would happen, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Politics. Tags: , , , . 2 Comments »

Clegg – liar liar, pants on fire

He’s not having a good time of it, is he? There’s been the whole Forgemasters debacle, where he supported the cancellation of a loan that has caused damage to his own constituents in Sheffield. To make that worse, he was disingenuous about the reasons for his support. He claimed that the directors wouldn’t agree to dilute their shareholdings, until proof came that they had agreed. He said the money wasn’t there, until proof came out that the Treasury had the money. He claimed it was done in the wrong manner, before proof came out that the civil servants had signed off the loan as being all above board.

When he ran out of excuses he ended up bumbling at the Despatch Box and calling the whole point of Prime Minister’s Questions into question (it’s not there for the personal opinions of the PM or whoever is deputising, it’s there to provide answers from the Government as a whole). One thing we do know is that a businessman from the area, who wanted to do a deal with Forgemasters before the loan came along and who and donated a large amount of money to the Tories before the election, wrote a letter to ask that the loan be cancelled.

And now he’s in a new pickle. Before the election, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were telling voters that cutting spending too early was dangerous. “Economic masochism” he called it. But after the election, he went along with deep and immediate cuts.

For some time he was telling us that the situation had changed and things were worse than he’d thought. Yet figures that came out in June showed that the deficit was lower than expected, and we now know that economic growth was higher. He claimed that Mervyn King had a chat with him and that had changed his mind as a result of dire new information and advice from the head of the Bank of England. But Mr King has since stated that he didn’t tell Clegg anything in private that he hadn’t earlier said at a press conference that was widely reported.

Now it seems that Clegg actually changed his mind some time during the election campaign. Which means (if we can take his latest story at face value), that he spent at least some of the time lying to voters – telling them that he would oppose something that he actually secretly supported.

It’s odd, at the very time he was being hailed as a breath of fresh air, as the ‘honest’ man among the three main leaders during the televised debates, it seems that he didn’t believe what he was saying to the electorate. He was at the height of popularity in late April, and by the end of July he’s been revealed as being utterly shallow.

Meanwhile, our PM is doing a tour of countries, each of which sees him pander to their views by using undiplomatic terms to describe their rivals, leading to at the very least a lot of muttering in Israel and Pakistan.

And we’ve got another four years and nine months of this?

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