Guest political comment

Festivities then what?

The olympic torch has been and gone.   After its arrival on Friday evening, it traversed Cornwall on Saturday before cross the Tamar (not the Amazon) in the evening to Devon.  By all accounts a great success.  An opportunity to showcase Cornwall and time to party on.  Thousands turned out to watch the spectacle, aided by the presence of celebrities.  According to one person – “The rousing welcome that Cornwall gave the Olympic flame shows the true spirit of this special place to the rest of the world.”

It might appear churlish to question the event.  Yet there are some nagging doubts lurking around.   There is for one thing the wall to wall support for the event giving the impression of a 99% in favour.   Perhaps.  Probably not.   No doubt considerable numbers found other activities to engage them.

Of those who went to watch there were probably mixed reasons and emotions – curiosity, a sense of patriotism, enticed by the various sideshows laid on in the major towns.    Lets be honest, at the present time  with free music,  free car parking, a beer tent at some venues  and various types of entertainment, a great day out.

At the same time we could see a link between the weekend events and that of the veneration of saints relics in the middle ages.   The olympic torch becoming imbued with miraculous attributes – possessing qualities far greater than simply being a flame.  A means of resolving  our current problems, removing our fears of the future, acting as the foretaste of more happy times.   Unfortunately as with saints relics we cannot place our faith in the concept of the olympic flame as a means of changing reality.

And for a government mired in decay and decline the torch relay as with the forthcoming Jubilee events provides an opportunity to distract the populace from forthcoming economic collapse.    Bread and circuses might temporarily relieve the population of the pain to come, but it will be temporary, short-lived and in the long run of no significance.



Whilst perusing a blog by the Scottish academic Gerry Hassan the other day I was minded to consider what parallels might exist with Cornwall.  In particular he makes certain interesting points about the Rangers FC debacle.

In terms of measuring by passions and emotions arguably the biggest story of the year in Scotland so far has been the controversy surrounding Rangers FC. This has been building for several years due to Rangers unsustainable spending under David Murray and the level of debt he inflicted on the club; these very public actions were ones that no part of the mainstream media, football, business or otherwise, held Rangers to account for.

He notes that rather than react against the mismanagement of the club when confronted with the likelihood of penalties imposed by the Scottish Football Association –

the reaction of Rangers fans was one of apoplexy and moral outrage, a feeling of mass indignation and victimhood that they were being unfairly singled out

Hassan identifies an obsessive belief that Rangers should be supported regardless.

The reality of ‘Scottish football needs Rangers’ no matter the cost or preparedness to abandon principle is similar to the ‘too big to fail’ view which brought banking and the country to its knees. Michael Johnston, chair of Kilmarnock, showed his clear sense of the SPL clubs moral compass, commenting, ‘The clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits may outweigh that’

As to why Scotland has attained this sorry state –

We aren’t where we are by accident; it is a product of the power and reach of institutional Scotland, and its creation of a culture of conformity and consensus. Scotland has been a land run by committees of the great and good, and shaped by ‘undemocracy’, an absence of the culture, memory and practice of democracy, and instead characterised by the ubiquity of ‘unspace’, public and private spaces characterised by institutional sclerosis, fear of risk taking and independent mindedness;

Are there parallels with Cornwall here?  We can see some similarities.  The main parties in Cornwall agree on most issues.  What little ostensible conflict that arises is often due to party politicking a desire to score a point rather than deriving from a fundamental principle.  Conformity and consensus prevail.

We also have  a media that is uncritical.  Uncritical in that certain policies and views are taken for granted.  There is an assumption that everyone is in favour of particular policies and proposals.  Oddly enough this echoes the approach adopted by Soviet style regimes where 99.9% of the electorate always supported the regime.   It is a strange reflection on a media which would doubtless regard itself as a bastion of independent thought.

An example of where conformity and consensus operate is that of the stadium for Cornwall.  Its supporters have seemingly adopted the line that 99.9% of the population are fervently in favour, a few naysayers notwithstanding.   Some commentators have  developed a line of thought that is encapsulated by the ‘too important to fail’ line.  It must be supported by everyone at all costs.  Without a stadium they contend not only would sport in Cornwall wither on the vine but Cornwall itself would be submerged in a slough of despond, its ambitions cast adrift to be wrecked on some offshore reef.

We have here an uncanny parallel with the UK and the olympics – a country apparently bankrupt but able and willing to spend on a vast ‘grand project’.

It is of course easy to get carried away with hyperbole when something you desire appears attainable.  It is easy to dismiss those who ask questions as detractors and naysayers.  Yet we should all feel uncomfortable if this is how we ‘undebate’ issues.

Frequently it results in the wrong decision being made.  And contrary to the assertions of some there are costs involved.   There is no such thing as a free lunch as someone once famously said.  In one sense a multicultural society is just that.  One consisting of a mosaic of beliefs, of interests and activities.  Where usually there is no majority for a single activity or project but a society united in its diversity.

That is what we should strive for if we want to create and sustain an inclusive Cornwall.

For Gerry Hassan see:

‘Throwing the Three ‘Rs’ Away: Rupert Murdoch, the Referendum and Rangers FC’ .


Government clamps down on cars

Following the recent implementation of the policy to cover up tobacco products on display in supermarkets as part of the campaign to minimise smoking, the Government has moved swiftly to deal with the problem of cars.

Speaking in favour of the measures a Government spokesperson outlined the dangers caused by cars:

An annual total of 150,000 accidents on roads of which 24,000 are fatal or serious (a);

Increased obesity and other health problems arising from car use and lower levels of walking;

]“Most of us are familiar with the difficulties of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle in an ‘obesogenic’ environment. We are increasingly sedentary and more than half the population is overweight or obese. We need to find more effective ways of enabling healthier eating and drinking and significantly increasing levels of physical activity.”  Dr Tony Jewell, Chief Medical Officer, Welsh Assembly Government] (b)

The environmental impact of car emissions on human health;  [The most obvious health impact of car emissions is on the respiratory system. It’s estimated that air pollution – of which vehicle emissions are the major contributor – is responsible for 24,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. Many of these deaths are due to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases – all of which are known to be aggravated by exposure to car fumes. (c)

The high level of greenhouse gas emissions [In 2009 cars and taxis accounted for 58% of UK domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions with light vans and heavy goods vehicles making up around 30%.]  (d);

Impact on land use – [growth in car ownership in the second half of the last century was also accompanied by radical changes in land use patterns to accommodate increased car use.]  (e)

 The measures announced include:

  • Banning adverts for cars (on television and newspapers);
  • Introducing a system to camouflage petrol forecourts and car sales areas. With cars covered up this would make people think less about cars;
  • Introducing a 11:00 PM threshold on television before which mention of cars in news items and programmes would be banned.  This would mean that Top Gear would only be available after this time.
  • Discouraging reference to cars in films and soaps.

The spokesperson concluded These measures will result in a meaningful reduction in the use of cars in the UK.  We have learned from the campaign on  on cigarette advertising that tough measures are needed.  Cars like cigarettes were once regarded as the epitome of the good life, but we know the dangers involved and have had to act.

Sources for quotes:

a  Department for Transport;

b Sustrans,;

c BBC, Exhaust emissions: what are they?;

d Department for Transport;

e. Sustrans,

Its ok folks do not panic.  The Government has no plans to clamp down on cars despite the adverse impacts associated with them!


Pasty tax – some comments

Hidden behind all the major announcements in the budget speech from George Osborne was a reference to removing anomalies in the VAT regime:

We will also address some of the loopholes and anomalies in our VAT system.  For example, at present, soft drinks and sports drinks are charged VAT; sports nutrition drinks are not.   Hot takeaway food on high streets has been charged VAT for more than twenty years; but some new hot takeaway products in supermarkets are not.

Initially comments on this were muted.  It seemed  a minor point.  Then the penny or more importantly the pasty dropped.   People realised this was not some minor change, not something that applied to ‘new hot takeaway products in supermarkets’ but a tax on the pasty.  The reaction was immediate with criticism from various sources, unsurprisingly the purveyors of pasties (and other products covered by the proposal) objected.  A facebook campaign was started in Cornwall ‘Say No to the Pasty Tax’ which has now reached a total of over 6,000 supporters.

In his budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced that he is putting 20% VAT on pasties. Pasties aren’t just a symbol of Cornwall, they are a key part of our manufacturing economy and thousands of people in Cornwall are employed either directly or indirectly by the pasty industry.

Raising the price of pasties (especially when the extra money goes to the government, not the firms) will cut sales and lead to job losses.

The Chancellor is still consulting on this proposal. Make your voice heard and say no to the Pasty Tax.

The ‘pasty tax’ along with the ‘granny tax’ became the defining features of an otherwise dull if predictable budget.  Newspapers, radio and tv and online media became the scene for comments both pro and anti the tax.

We can discern certain features of the anti campaign, some related some not.  One is a Cornish reaction – disgust that an iconic cultural trait is under threat.  Another is that it is a tax on what is for many who purchase it, a good wholesome meal, associated with though not exclusive to, what might be termed the more working class elements of society.  As such putting a tax on a basic food while cutting the top rate of income tax hardly appeals to a sense of being in this together.  Doubtless some opponents see the tax as an opportunity to attack the government.  We might wonder how many opponents are real pasty aficionados!

Then we have those who support the tax.   We have Eric Pickles with

“some plain-speaking advice for those metropolitan lightweights and their pastry preferences. “Real men don’t eat pasties,” he declares. “They eat growlers. Now that’s a proper meat pie.” 

Presumably under the impression that pasties are a staple of the Notting Hill set.   Then there are those who consider pasties unhealthy

“I have no idea what the fuss is about. The government (rightly) taxes to the hilt other health damaging products such as tobacco. This is no different. Given some of the lard bags I have seen wobbling out of places like Greggs it wouldn’t have hurt to bring in a higher VAT rate for these junk foods.”

Then we have the legalists who see it simply as a case of removing an anomaly.

“If one looks at the facts it is plainly a nonsense that on the high street a baker can sell a hot pie without VAT on it but next door a chippy sells hot food with VAT on it. That’s giving an unfair competitive advantage to one business over another in the same market – hot takeaway meals.    I have no truck with any of this. If there have to be taxes on food then they have to be applied fairly without giving any advantage to one business over another. The principle of VAT is to tax the adding of value in making a product and in this case the general rule is the heating of food for immediate consumption is a service that attracts tax.    If there has to be VAT on restaurant meals then it’s only fair that there is VAT on hot takeaway meals – and if that means pizzas, chippies, curries and Chinese then it has to mean pies, sausage rolls . . . and pasties.”  (Brian Monteith in the Scotsman, Brian Monteith: Tax moaning is plain unsavoury).

Then there are those who see it as a distraction.

The government’s decision to close this loophole could either be seen as a well-intentioned effort to put all hot food sellers on the same footing, or it could be seen as a ‘stealth tax’ on the poor. However, last weeks’ Budget introduced a number of major changes to tax bands, stamp duty, and child benefits, with most people being affected, whatever their income.   With this in mind, I find it hard to understand why there’s been such a focus on ‘pasty-gate’.   So, does ‘pasty-gate’ show that the government is out of touch with real people, or that people (and the media that feeds them) are out of touch with the real hot potatoes of the Budget?  (Is the ‘pasty tax’ taking the heat off meatier issues?  (by Erica Jobson, Senior Advocate, Money29 March 2012).

A comment in the FT called for a sense of proportion suggesting there were more important issues than the fact that “for the past week, the British public has been reading about the tax rates on Cornish pasties, …

And David Blunkett blundered into the debate:

Echoing his earlier comments in a Good Morning Ulster interview, David Blunkett MP spoke about the odd political situation in Westminster. Issues of recent importance included whether the Prime Minister had ridden a horse, the price of pasties, and the re-election to Westminster of the former member for Baghdad South. There’s a danger that politics is being seen through the prism of entertainment. Blunkett called for society to revitalise its political engagement at all levels: educational and health public bodies should be held to account at a local level.

Belittling the opposition to the pasty tax  seems unwise.   People are genuinely annoyed by the proposal whether because they regard it as good wholesome meal or a Cornish cultural item or both.  Intertwined with this is an economic argument – what impact would a tax have on employment and enterprise?

Regarding the question of the tax anomaly it is not a case that supermarkets have some advantage over corner shop takeaways – large numbers of pasties are sold in Cornwall from small corner shops.   Does the lack of a tax confer an advantage to those selling pasties over those selling fish and chips?  Possibly.  So why not remove VAT from all food which is sold to be eaten outside the premises?   Otherwise someone might argue that a prepared meal sold in a shop which is to all intents and purposes similar to a takeaway meal should be subject to VAT?

Doubtless those who frequent restaurants will boldly question why then should they pay VAT?  A fair point.  As well as retracting the proposals to tax food the Chancellor would do well to make the tax system fairer – on income and wealth.  But we know he won’t do that don’t we!


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