Wednesday 11 February 2015

Home Rule for the North, and other musings

Suddenly, after ten years of silence, devolution has come back to life as a result of Scotland's referendum.  Sadly it`s re-emerged in a way that`s not acceptable to those who are happy to live outside the big cities.  John Prescott's valiant efforts to give us regional governments was so diluted by Blairite caution as to be not worth voting for.  Which the North East duly didn't.  Yet at least regional devolution offered a rational framework for people who wanted to reverse Britain's excessive decentralisation.

Now George Osborne`s new idea is to bring back to life or rather half-life the Metropolitan counties his party abolished years ago.  The new fashion is City Regions, five in the North led by Manchester but not including the Humber (but that`s a river).  They`re unequal in size, Greater Manchester is the biggest with 2.7 million people, while the North East combined authority is biggest in area.  But we`re far from sure what powers they`re to get, and why.

This isn`t devolution as they know it in Scotland.  We Northerners aren`t deemed fit for that.  It`s asymmetrical devolution creating a patchwork quilt which leaves those of us who`re delighted to live outside the big Cities (Britain`s mini Wens) out in the cold.  Our problems may be greater, as is our loss of government support.  But so far as Northern Powerhouses are concerned we`re left out in the cold.  In sheds.

I don't mind giving more powers to the big cities.  But in a country which is far too centralised with far too much power, wealth, talent and investment drained off to London, big cities generally have been more favoured than smaller towns.  The bigger the city the more MPs it has to lobby, argue and persuade for it and the better its development team.  Grimsby, like Hartlepool, York or Peterborough, can`t compete.


Weeks to go and the election is hopelessly stuck in a muddy rut. If nothing's done to jolt it out to a higher level it'll end by alienating everyone of sense (there are a few left) and driving people to UKIP as the only repository (or is it suppository) of sense and good taste

Tory supporting papers denounce Milliband on every other page, business leaders denounce Labour however hard it prostrated itself before them, as requiring them to pay their taxes and other nasty acts like price freezes, higher wages or regulations to stop rackets and roots.

As for the Tories they describe a land running with milk and honey .They claim that anything the Government may have done wrong Labour did first . All too often it's true. Which may be why the fading Blairites like Mandy, Clark, Milburn and Hutton are behaving so disloyally in attacking their leader-though if he's disgruntlement them he must be doing something right

And it's all crap which conceals the real issue: Britan's failing economy can no longer pay our way in the world or support the superstructure of a good society so we're forced to sell bits off and accumulate debt, personal and national.

How do we deal with that? The Tories want to cut our coat and everything else to suit our cloth, cut down the state and turn us into a low wage economy run on neo-liberal lines and liberate wealth in the hope that it's benefits will trickle down like horse manure.

Labour prefers Keynes to Hayeck  so it wants to invest, spend and grow to put more people back to work to pay taxes and rescue the public finances so as to shift the balance from business to the people

Here's a real difference  though both parties cautiously try to hide the full implications by  being mealy mouthed  about "hard working families", the Tory definition of the people and worshipping the somewhat ungracious business community in Labours's case.

It is a class war though neither party dares to say so..Unless we recognise that and speak truth to the people we're in for the most boring election ever.


A lot of intelligent people have wasted their time wondering why the Conservative government has done such silly and economically damaging things as exempting hedge funds from stamp duties , rejecting time stamping of foreign exchange transactions to stop dealers skimming off points for themselves or not dealing with Britain's tax avoidance industry which is now bigger and richer than our tax collection industry.

Could it be simple stupidity? Or kind generosity? As a simple Yorkshireman I have the answer. The Tories are in hock to all of them. Which made it very keen to help it's friends in persuade of its policy of helping the greedy while punishing the needy to encourage them to do better for themselves..

That's the British way after all.Chaps help chaps. Chaps appoint good chaps to the House of Lords and when non chaps criticise them chaps are entitled to refuse to comment. Chaps business is not one else's business, after all a chaps got to do what a chaps got to do


The papers showing HSBC was helping customers - some of them dodgy- to evade taxes were leaked by a whistle blower some years ago. HMRC got over a thousand cases and has managed to prosecute one and get a few others to cough up. Other tax authorities managed more and have initiated prosecution. We don't do that kind of thing here. Not to chaps.

Why is it so feeble, slow moving and understaffed that it takes years to catch up with the tax dodgers and even longer to take back some ( but only some) of their ill gotten gains. Because it's understaffed and inadequate, ever ready to hound the small fiddlers,reluctant to take on the big boys like Vodaphone or HSBC.

This government wants to keep it that way. Regrettably so did ours and I well remember meetings with Treasury Ministers where we told them of the scams and they did nothing-even listen (no names no pack drill) Ed Milliband is different

Thank God for the public accounts committee. No one else would so anything but we revealed the tax dodging by Amazon and the big corporations. Now we've got to look at HSBC and the other banks who were doubtless doing it. Just time before the election. Step forward Lord Green .

He says "as a matter of principle I will not comment on the affairs of HSBC." Anyone ever interrogated by the cops should remember those words,the chap's equivalent of "no comment".

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