Taxing Our Patience: HMRC & The £6bn Question

[First printed in The Morning Star, 16/06/2012]

This week’s look at our top tax officials’ secret deals with Big Business was the very apotheosis of civil service reports: a detailed sequence of events explained in crisp, clear language that managed to offer complete absolution or utter condemnation, depending on how quickly you skimmed it.

For the Public Accounts Committee’s Margaret Hodge MP, the National Audit Office’s findings were “extremely worrying”; for the Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall it unmasked campaigners UK Uncut as nothing more than “ignorant teenage Trots.”

Worstall’s complaint is ultimately for the courts to decide, now that a spin-off legal team have won permission to argue that one of the cases – a £20m write-off for investment bankers Goldman Sachs – was not just “mistaken” but illegal.

Yet far from a clean bill of health, the bulk of the report, largely cobbled from the testimony of retired senior judge and tax specialist Andrew Park, damns HM Revenue & Customs’ head hobnobbers with faint praise — where it finds anything to praise at all. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Leveson Inquiry & Employment Law

[First published in The Morning Star, 17/12/2011. See my previous post on the issue in March here.]

The wheels of Justice Leveson grind slow but fine — and last week was no different as News Of The World ex-editor Colin Myler took the stand.

With nearly a decade’s worth of skullduggery to draw on, the senior judge’s inquiry into media ethics has always risked falling prone to the same sensationalism it set out to investigate: from high-profile victims’ statements to the Watergate-like machinations of Murdoch’s most trusted executives, media coverage has favoured individual scandals over the systemic intimidation of journalists that spurs them.

But with Myler in the spotlight, barrister Robert Jay plodded on with an even more vital investigation: the workaday world of today’s tabloid reporter. How, in the most literal sense, do these people live with themselves? Read the rest of this entry »


What Would Jesus Donate?: The Big Money Behind St Paul’s

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[First published in The Morning Star, 29/10/11. This piece was filed on Thursday, the day before the Cathedral announced it would take legal action to evict the protesters.]

The public furore around London’s occupation movement hit a new peak on Thursday when the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral quit, reportedly over internal pressure to take legal action against the social activists of Occupy London Stock Exchange who have sought sanctuary on the cathedral’s steps for the last fortnight.

The Revd Giles Fraser, who the campers regard as an ally within the church, issued a statement just days before his resignation insisting that rumours the cathedral had closed its doors for commercial reasons were “complete nonsense.”

But in light of his sudden exit and the cathedral’s loss of income – an estimated £20,000 a day – it’s worth taking a look at who does control the cathedral’s purse strings. Read the rest of this entry »


Suffrage On Sufferance: Ken Clarke & Prisoner Voting Rights

[First published in the Morning Star, 28/05/2011]

When the BBC’s Question Time arrived at Wormwood Scrubs last week, justice secretary Ken Clarke was braced for battle: in the same day he’d managed to outrage feminists with talk of “the gradations of rape”, while incensing hardline authoritarians with a plan to dangle reduced sentences for prisoners who plead guilty.

But the lord chancellor was back to his breezy, avuncular self by the time inmate James Patterson got a chance to ask why Clarke’s clemency didn’t extend to allowing prisoners the vote — despite a landmark ruling on the issue in the European Court of Human Rights more than half a decade ago.

“Does denying all convicted prisoners the vote reinforce their alienation from society and discourage rehabilitation?” he asked.

Clarke’s response was unequivocal: so unequivocal, in fact, that he didn’t even need to qualify it with an argument. Read the rest of this entry »


Where There’s Smoke: Tracing The UK Tobacco Lobby

[First published in the Morning Star, 23/03/2011]

Last fortnight’s release of the Government’s tobacco control plan saw a flurry of press releases and talking heads; everyone from local shop owners to libertine smoking enthusiasts. But behind the headlines lies a carefully coordinated and well-funded network of lobbyists and public relations experts who all draw their paycheques, at least in part, from the same trio of multinational tobacco companies.

At present the tobacco control plan (available here) centres on two issues: a ban on point-of-sale displays from next year and potentially a ban on the colourful cartons themselves. But the Government has said it will first explore the “competition, trade and legal implications, and the likely impact on the illicit tobacco market” – and it’s here where the industry lobbyists hopes to win over public opinion.

Noone doubts that tobacco is big business in Britain: around 7 million packets are sold each day, generating nearly £13b a year. In the convenience store sector it outsells confectionary, soft drinks and newspapers combined. To put it another way, nearly one in three adults in the UK are regular smokers — and the market doesn’t look to be drying up anytime soon.

Read the rest of this entry »


How IR Law Turns Press Into Propaganda & Gets People Killed

Industrial relations is one of those weird political anomalies; a field which affects literally everyone who’s ever paid their own rent but is somehow seen as a bit of a bore by anyone who isn’t an active card-carrying union member. It’s what prompts the insistence on “balanced” legislation which invariably assumes lawsuits and industrial action are effortless, exhilarating experiences for employees with no personal impositions whatsoever.

But events in the British rag trade over the past week have provided a perfect case study of why the systematic erosion of rights for new employees -particularly the 90-day probationary period in New Zealand, and Britain’s one-year exemptions from unfair dismissal – has been such a dangerous idea.

First Liberal Conspiracy‘s Sunny Hundal posted allegations of political pressure on BBC reporters to recast Government funding cuts as “savings”. Then the next day Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiat tendered his resignation in an open letter which alleged that for the last two years he’d basically been paid to make things up about celebrities, neo-Nazis and Muslims. Read the rest of this entry »


Soft On Crime: McCully’s Moral Duty To West Papua

 

With all the Hobbit-chat of late you could be forgiven for thinking it was a slow newsweek – but here at the Scoop offices it was nothing of the sort. On Monday the independent West Papua Media network released video it had received of Indonesian soldiers torturing two Papuan men: punching and kicking them, running a bayonet over one’s throat and burning the other’s penis with a charred stick.[WARNING: link features real and graphic violence]

Within hours the horrific footage made the headlines of Al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald, while Amnesty International and other NGOs demanded an independent investigation by Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile coverage here in the Shire was practically non-existent, other than here at Scoop and the equally tiny newsroom at Radio New Zealand International. Read the rest of this entry »