Thursday, March 22, 2007

Same Old Tories?

If it makes sense to take poor pensioners out of the tax and benefit systems by raising taxation thresholds (or 'tax free allowances'), then why does it also make sense to abolish the 10% rate of income tax and to make a larger number of low income families more benefit-dependent (as opposed to taking them out of the system as well)?

Likewise, why are poor single people in work having part of their meagre wealth redistributed by this budget to wealthier members of society?

And why are tax credits called tax credits when they are not automatically delivered as a credit against tax and instead have to be claimed like a benefit?

And why is an allegedly social-democratic government cutting corporation tax? Something, one imagines, to do with Tories - and nothing to do with the left.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sugaring the pill: Is it really racism which has left Lord Levy, Blair's Little Drummer Boy, out in the cold over cash for honours?

Today a strange PR campign started in which friends and associates of Lord Levy (well his local rabbi and Alan Sugar at any rate) started talking up the notion of a racist witch hunt against Blair's tennis partner, chief fundraiser and Middle East envoy extraordinaire .

I use the term extraodinary advisedly, if only in the sense that his embassy appears to have achieved precisely nothing during one of the most volatile periods in modern Middle Eastern history - unless you count Jordan recently closing its border to Iraqi refugees.

Sugar talked of Levy's 'blind loyalty' and in an intentionally homespun, halting and bonhomie-laced performance stuttered confusedly and contrivedly about how he couldn't really see what Lord Levy got out of this personally - I mean he opined its not like he's making lots of money out of this or anything.*

Interviewing Sugar on the issue on this morning's Radio 4 Today Programme, John Humphrey's mentioned the whole Middle East envoy thing - which if nothing else gets one regular stays down at the Dead Sea spas courtesy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan**. Sugar didn't seem convinced that this role was of any significance in what was, on reflection, the most believable part of his interview - after all noone in the Middle East believes that Levy's role as an envoy should be taken seriously either.

That said this hasn't stopped him accompanying 'wor Tone' (as he is rarely known in his North East English parliamentary constituency) to the region on an alleged trip of great diplomatic importance as recently as December 2006.

**[Note the British public purse never pays for Lord Levy's trips except when he is entertained by our Ambassador's according to ministers Kim Howells and Geoff Hoon in answers to questions by Mark Francois MP (Conservative) recorded in Hansard dated 19 Feb 2007].

*For the record here is Sugar's slightly sickening homily to the man who arguably has done more than anyone since Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton to destroy trust in our political system:
'what's in it for Levy?' Sir Alan said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"This is not a man who has lined his own pocket, this is not a man who has done some insider trading dealing or something like that in the stock market and has stolen from shareholders.
"This is a man who has blind devotion - I don't know why - to Tony Blair, blind loyalty for Tony Blair and has gone out and blagged people for money for the party.
"That to me is his worse [sic] crime."

I suppose that in the New Morality of New Labour that is OK then. And I suppose Lord Levy's crimes or misdemeanours may be slight alongside invading a country and destroying it as a functioning state on the basis that you have managed to convince some naive backbenchers and racist tories that you thought the country concerned, authoritarianism notwithstanding, might have a weapon that could threaten Cyprus in 45 minutes despite the fact that the name of the country didn't begin with 'Turk' and end in 'ey'.

But then again maybe you have to consider what, or who, after all Lord Levy was fundraising for. If you are Tony Blair's Middle East envoy you can hardly plead ignorance of the effects of his policies can you?

I suppose that explains why he might well have felt safer asking donors if they wanted a peerage, rather than asking them if they wanted the blood of 100,000 Iraqi civilians on their hands - ermine, after all, being so much nicer to the touch than gore.