Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sexuality Sells, And We're All Buying

This morning's Victoria Derbyshire Show on the BBC made quite a big deal over the fact that a British Olympic hopeful had decided to come out to the nation as gay. Such a big deal in fact, that they teased the story on social media, but kept the name of the athlete concerned as an "exclusive" for the show itself.

It turns out that athlete is race walker Tom Bosworth. No, me neither. The fact that a major broadcaster still considered his sexuality a matter of such utmost importance that it needed to not only be revealed to the nation live during the show, but trailed in advance just to whet our salacious appetites raises a couple of questions.

Firstly, is it news? Well, no. Not in the wider definition of the word as something of interest going on in the world that we need to know about. It's probably news to Tom's family, his training partners, teammates and friends - assuming many of them didn't already know - but not particularly news to the rest of us. I suspect the reaction of the nation will have been one of "meh" and get on with your day.

Secondly, why does a major media outlet consider it to be news, if most of us know that it isn't? Well you would have to ask the producers of the show that. Without wishing to answer on their behalf, I suspect they've looked at what seems to be work for daytime TV formats and decided that a story about someone's little sexual secret fits right in with the Jeremy Kyle/Loose Women style that  ITV peddle.

In short, they are using Tom Bosworth's willingness to reveal his sexuality to a widely disinterested nation for a bit of cheap, titillating television. Are we still really at that stage of our social development as a culture? Did Back to the Future just happen and all of a sudden we're in the 1970s again?

"But things like this help other gay people to find the confidence to speak out".

Do they really? Does the fact an athlete who nobody outside those with an interest in race walking has ever heard of has come out really provide that much comfort and security to a young person that they can feel safe about revealing their own sexuality?

I don't think it does. This isn't an age where being gay or lesbian (or anywhere between) is still punishable by prison or something that needs to be kept hidden away in a metaphorical closet. There are high profile, openly gay figures in sport, entertainment and politics who are showing that being honest about your sexuality is no handicap to having a fulfilling and successful life.

More damaging is the approach taken by the media that being anything other than heterosexual is something still to be considered surprising or news-worthy. That doesn't provide any kind of comfort or solace to anyone on the verge of coming out, whether they are in public life or not. It portrays non-heterosexual love as something so out of the ordinary or unusual that a major broadcaster has to devote time to discussing it.

In short the attitude of the media towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people in public life needs to change. It informs and supports prejudice, and creates an atmosphere which prevents people being who they really are. It contributes to potential mental health issues caused by the fear of revealing your sexuality. Enough is, as the song says, enough.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

For National Poetry Day

Writing poems about poets
It really is quite hard
That's why it's sometimes easier
To call Shakespeare "The Bard"

Writing poems about poets
The tantrums and commotion
When you can't think of anything
For Andrew bloody Motion

Writing poems about poets
You're a hero or a villain
Depends on whether you leave out
That nice Ian McMillan

Writing poems about poets
To stick up on your fridge
Even ones with quite long names
Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Writing poems about poets
One of my pet hates
Is when you discover
That Keats doesn't rhyme with Yeats

Writing poems about poets
The travails and the despairs
Have finally convinced me
That I'll never be Pam Ayres

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Binary Life

It must be really nice, to live a binary life
Where everything is one thing or another
You're either left or right, either black or white
No choices to confuse, confound or smother

Run with the hounds or with the foxes, put it all in boxes
Pick a side and never cross the floor
Be messy or be neat, never the twain shall meet
Dig in those heels and stand up proud and sure

Your fact is never fiction, no scope for contradiction
All counter arguments are batted back
If you're short of a retort, as a last resort
There's always the ad hominem attack

To back up your opinions, summon all your minions
By starting all your tweets with a full stop
Make clear your intentions, by clogging up their mentions
Convince yourself that you've come out on top

So listen trolling hordes, you warriors with keyboards
From the chalice of my wisdom take a sup
Don't be a dickhead for your cause, it won't get you applause
Just told to do one, and shut the fuck right up. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

When sharing isn't caring

Social media has been in something of a schism over the last 24 hours, as a result of the news media's decision to publicise the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by printing a picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach.

There are many who, for no doubt what they consider to be the "right" reasons, have taken to sharing this image among their social networks - either by re-tweeting or sharing the picture itself or images of the newspaper front pages on which it features. It's their decision, after all it is their responsibility to decide what they share or don't on their own social media feeds.

So let me tell you why anyone who shares it into mine is going to find themselves swiftly un-followed.

The primary argument for doing so appears to be that it "raises awareness" of the true extent of the humanitarian crisis happening in the area, caused by ongoing civil wars and unrest in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

What I'm not quite sure of is whose awareness it is trying to raise. Those with access to Twitter and Facebook also have a world of electronic news media at their fingertips, in addition to television and radio news as well as the printed press. I find it highly unlikely to the point of flabbergasting that any of them are not already aware of the horrible situation which faces these people (I won't call them refugees from here on in, they deserve better than that). It has been the main focus of the media for the last couple of weeks at least, usually focused on the humanitarian cost in terms of lost lives.

In short, if you didn't know this was already happening, you must have been living in a cave, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears going "lalalalala".

So no, it's not "raising awareness" as the overwhelming majority of people you are sharing it with are already heart-breakingly aware thank you.

Neither is it helping the plight of the people suffering. Treating their corpses like some sort of merchantable commodity in order to sell newspapers, or attract television news viewers to your channel is an act every bit as inhuman as packing people into overcrowded, unsafe vessels in the first place. It gives these people no dignity, no respect, none of the things they are desperately fleeing in search of. It is simply picking over their corpses like vultures. If you choose to be complicit in that then fair enough, but at least have the decency not to try to drag me down into the cesspit with you.

Let's just posit an alternative reality shall we? Imagine if on 8 July 2005, the British press and news media had been full of lingering shots of the bodies of those killed in the attacks on London's transport network. Not photos of their happy, smiling faces provided by loved ones, but actual shots of their corpses, not covered by sheets on trolleys but lifeless in the streets of the capital. How would the public have reacted to that?

I'd wager they'd have been outraged. They would have regarded it as callous, insensitive acts of barbarism. After all, these people were someone's spouses, siblings, children, parents. Don't they deserve better than to turn on the television or open a newspaper and see the corpse of a loved one who lost their life in an unnecessary act of inhumanity?

So why is it different when it's a small child that nobody in the UK knows or is related to?

If you really, truly want to help reduce the human cost of this situation you're not going to do it by hitting a button and sharing an image. Lobby your MP to change the UK's attitude both to leaving countries unstable after half-arsed military interventions and to how it deals with the humanitarian crisis it leaves behind afterwards.

Give to one of the numerous relief organisations trying to put a sticking plaster over the top of this gaping wound in our humanity because governments are too scared of public opinion to dress it properly. It doesn't need to be financial. Donate food, clothing, anything that can be sold to raise funds rather than sat gathering dust in your spare room. Give your time to help these organisations who are not just "raising awareness" but actually doing something on the ground to help the most helpless.

If you've read all that and still think it's fine to go around using a dead toddler's image as a mark of your humanity go ahead, it's your life. But don't surprised if I and those like me choose to treat you with the same respect you treated that dead Syrian boy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

An Appeal On Behalf Of Victims Of Human Trafficking

As you may have seen on the news recently, there has been a substantial rise in the number of people - particularly young men - being trafficked across borders all over Europe.

Often, these people leave behind well-paid jobs and relatively luxury in order to go in search of a better, more stable life elsewhere. A place where they will no longer feel threatened or unappreciated. Where mobs don't bay for their blood on a weekly basis.

This dreadful human cargo reaches a peak towards the end of August, where the traffickers are at their most active before winter nights start to draw in. It's important that we make a stand at this time of year against this despicable trade.

This is David.

David lives in the north of England. He paid people traffickers 10% of a significant signing on fee to take him to Spain. Only by our operatives disabling a fax machine at the Spanish end of their operation were we able to save him and enable him to return to Manchester, where he has a nice, comfortable bench to sit on.

There are hundreds of young men just like David, being taken from their homelands to be left all alone in a country where they don't speak the language, have no friends and only a pittance of £120k a week to fall back on.

Please help us to stop this cruel trade in human lives by refusing to support those who perpetrate it and televise it for the amusement of their viewers.

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Enemy at the Gate?

As you might have noticed, there's a bit of a thing going on at Calais at the moment.

Lots of people (many of them from countries where we've either actively bombed their infrastructure into rubble, or supported dictators who did it for themselves) are quite keen on getting into the UK. Many of them have survived hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean on unsafe, overcrowded vessels having paid people traffickers all their worldly possessions for the privilege.

They now sit by the side of the road, looking for ways to find some sort of egress into the UK, either in the back of a lorry or by walking 30 miles down a tunnel used by 150mph massive hunks of metal that would vapourise them on contact.

We're told by the government and their usual rabble of media acolytes that these folks are trying to get here for two reasons.

1. They want to claim benefits, and/or

2. They want to blow us up

Let's take a look at why both of those statements are absolute piles of bollocks, shall we?

They're only coming here to claim our benefits

So, you're sat in a crumbling house in Syria with bombs and rockets going off all around you, or starving to death in Sudan and you think "where shall I go to escape this hell?"

Obviously the clear solution is to whip out your smartphone, search "benefit rates and qualifying periods in the EU" and make your choice from there, right?

Do people not get how ridiculous that sounds? 

Even if the infrastructure existed for them to be able to make these considered comparisons, are we seriously suggesting that people climb off a boat on the Greek mainland and then in order to get their hands on £60 per week embark on a 3,000 mile overland journey with nothing except what they can carry in their pockets?

On the way, they pass through other countries that have very similar conditions for the receipt of benefits to the UK and indeed plenty who pay at a higher weekly rate. Surely if it was all about the benefits they would stop off in any one of those and make it their home?

They're coming from Islamic State to blow us up

Again, let's examine how logical that statement is.

IS clearly has no trouble getting its hands on money to buy weapons. It is funded in part by rich people from what is an incredibly rich part of the world and centre of its oil production.

It puts time and effort into recruiting and training its soldiers and planning guerrilla military campaigns and acts of terror.

So are we seriously saying that after all that effort, the most effective way it has of getting its operatives into the UK is to try and sneak them onto the back of a lorry at Calais having exposed them to potentially fatal journeys over land and sea to get there?

Terrorist 101 suggests that if you want your operatives to be able to move freely and without suspicion around the world, you either recruit ones that already have the right to live in the place you want to attack or you create false identities to get them into your target country legally, on student visas for example.

What you don't do is stick them in a leaky, overcrowded boat then bank on Barry leaving the back doors of his lorry full of Ginsters pasties open while he nips for a slash. It's ineffective, highly likely to be unsuccessful and basically plain bonkers.

Alright smart arse, why are they coming here then?

You want to know why? Simple really, it's because they like us and have heard good things about us.

They know we're a country which has a history of being racially tolerant. One where if you are prepared to knuckle down and work hard, there's a fairly decent chance you can make a reasonable life for yourself. One where the fact you're the wrong religion won't get you kidnapped, tortured and killed by your theological or political opponents.

In short, they like the image Britain has created for itself in large parts of the world as being a capital for enterprise, fairness and opportunity.

It's just a shame that so many politicians and media outlets are determined to ruin that image, by acting exactly the opposite in order to distract the indigenous population from the damage they are doing to it.

So next time you see a refugee camp at Calais, or a boat bobbing in the Mediterranean full of men, women and children that your government is quite happy to let drown, have a think about whether you would be prepared to put yourself through that for the promise of an extra £60 a week rather than barking to the dog whistle.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Dead Politician Sketch

Scene: The interior of a pet shop. The shopkeeper is waiting behind the counter, as the door opens and the bell rings.

SK: Ah, Comrade Corbyn. Good to see you again. What can we do for you?

JC: I wish to complain about the politician I bought from this here establishment not hours ago.

*puts cage on counter*

SK: Oh yes. The Burnham. Lovely plumage, changes to suit the political climate. What's wrong with him

JC: I'll tell you what's wrong with him my lad. It repeats everything I say, that's what.

SK: No it doesn't!

JC: Yes it does!

AB: Yes it does!

JC: See!!

SK: That wasn't repetition, it can't have been. Look, he's resting.

JC: Resting? Resting? If I hadn't covered it in manifesto commitments it would be pushing up the deficit right now

AB: Up the deficit! Up the deficit!

JC: There! It did it again!

SK: No, that was me. It couldn't have been the Burnham because it's...err....dead. That's it, dead. 

JC: Dead?

SK: Yep. Dead. If he wasn't laying on his back you would be able to see the stab wounds. He's a stiff. Bereft of votes. Giving a speech to the conference invisible. Climbed up the party hierarchy and gone to meet his backers.

JC: Well if he's dead, I want a replacement

SK: Sorry chief. We don't have any more in stock. I could do you a Cooper or a Kendall

JC: What's the difference between them and a Burnham

SK: To be honest with you mate, fuck all.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Tube Strike Blues - with apologies to W H Auden

Stop all the trains, close off the underground
Prevent the customers from queueing, clutching their hard-earned pound
Silence the tannoys and with muffled moan
Turn out the public, have them find their own way home

Let the traffic copters hover, whirring overhead
Clog the streets with buses, a stationary sea of red
Put hi-vis jackets on the staff manning all the doors
Hire out a Boris bike, without reading every clause

Clapham North, East Ham, South Ealing, Acton West
My morning rush and bus replacement day of rest
My late nights, my weekends, my never having to wait long
I thought the Tube was here forever: I was wrong

Departure boards are not wanted now, put out every one
Ascend to the surface, step out into the sun
Mop away the urine, sweep up all the litter
For all you'll hear tomorrow is Londoners being bitter

Monday, June 15, 2015

Human Rights Act Song

(To the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive")

I never used to be afraid
Never petrified
Because I had the Human Rights Act
Sitting by my side
Now you spend so many days
Trying to get it repealed
But it won't yield
No matter how much force you wield
So now you're back
From your disgrace
Dressed up like a berk
That gormless look upon your face
We should have changed the bloody locks
We should have paid some of the fuzz
To say you called them plebs
And save us all this fuss

Go on now Gove, walk out the door
Just bugger off now, cause you're not welcome any more
Weren't you the one, with your sodding bill of rights
Stealing our freedoms
Giving us sleepless nights
Oh no, not I
I will survive
As long as there's democracy
We'll keep the HRA alive
We've got all our votes to give
We've got all our lives to live
It will survive
It will survive 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's Just Not Cricket

Evolution is a wonderful thing. In the animal kingdom, it produces all sorts of varied fauna and flora, perfectly adapted to its environment. Without it, we wouldn't be here as a species with our capacity for language and innovation.

Even sport is not immune from the effects of evolution. As sport comes to the realisation it's part of the entertainment industry, it adapts and changes to ensure it can continue to attract the important spectator and sponsor income essential for its survival. Is it possible though that some sports have pushed the process too far, to the point where the sport itself has become lost?

The essence of cricket is the contest between bat and ball. The batsmen are trying to avoid being dismissed while also looking to score runs, while the bowler is trying to keep the runs to a minimum while taking wickets. In their attempts to engender entertainment though, have the administrators of the game pushed that balance past its tipping point?

Cricket has equated entertainment with one thing only - runs. The art of bowling well, whether that be the giant pace bowler sending down 90mph deliveries, or the spinner bamboozling the batsman with flight, drift and turn isn't regarded as what the spectators want to see. 

Every boundary struck is greeted with a Pavlovian burst of disco music, fireworks and cheerleaders, accompanied by the crowd waving the plastic signs provided for them by the sponsors. In contrast any wicket - particularly of the home side - is greeted with silence irrespective of the quality of the delivery that brought it about.

In an attempt to generate more "entertainment", laws and playing regulations have been tinkered with. Boundaries have become smaller and smaller, so even miss-hits and top edges fly over the ropes. Bowlers are given a much narrower window to aim at for a delivery to be legal. They are restricted on how many short-pitched deliveries they can bowl in an over. Captains are prevented from setting fields to stem them flow of runs by the number of fielders they can have in different positions.

Even that would perhaps be manageable, as the bowler still has one element in his armoury that he can call upon for assistance - the pitch. However, even these are now being increasingly tailored towards assisting the batsman. Lifeless, beige strips of turf that offer neither sideways movement nor excessive pace to provide hope for the bowler. In baseball, a pitcher can still throw a 90mph curveball irrespective of the ground beneath his feet. In cricket, the fast bowler can put in all the effort he likes but if the pitch sucks the pace out of the ball life becomes easier for the batsman.

Seven or even eight runs per over is becoming the new normality in the shorter formats of the game. If this continues though, then even that will be greeted with a "ho hum" response from spectators, who will want more and more. So what do administrators do then? What cricket has done is equivalent to football doubling the width of the goals to make it easier to score.

At the recent one-day World Cup in Australia, they used some of the largest grounds in professional cricket such as the SCG in Sydney and the MCG in Melbourne. Boundaries weren't brought in significantly, which meant batsmen had to work hard to hit fours and sixes and slower bowlers in particular got some protection from being slogged out of the game.

There needs to be a rebalancing of the game of this type between bat and ball, whether that is a relaxation to the fielding restrictions or guidance issued to groundsmen about the kinds of pitches they should be preparing and the size of boundaries. As it stands, the one-day game may be entertainment, but it's really not cricket.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Alternative Dating Apps - Twitter At It's Finest

I started on a train of thought about alternative dating apps - equivalents to Grindr, if you like. For example:

Flippr - for penguins

Badgr - for people sett in their ways

Beavr - for people who give a dam

Chuntr - for disgruntled Yorkshire folk

Twitter being the hive mind of clever, funny folk that it is then got to work with some of its own, such as:

Wankr - for people who don't want to meet anyone (@scottwilks)

Blattr - matching countries willing to pay bribes with people looking to receive them (@davidkirland02)

Splittr - for member's of the People's Front of Judea. Or the Judean People's Front (@TraineeJohn)

Farmr - for lonely country folk ((@markarnott30)

Coopr - for people with fez fetishes (@RugbyDiscipline)

Errrr - for the indecisive (@WashyAndIrony)

Mindr - for cockney wide boys (@TonyBraisby)

Xcalibr - for minor royalty (@raisemyboats)

Fudgr - for prevaricating politicians with a sweet tooth (@mactab52)

Coppr - for people who fell down the stairs, or were definitely armed (@johnnydobbo)

Needless to say, if any of these turn up on the App Store at any point in the future there will be legal action!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The UKIP Calypso - Part Two

In the UK on the 5th of May
The electorate had their say
UKIP gonna win seats for fun
Started off with two, ended up with one

Now it's time to count the cost
Nigel said he'd quit if he lost
But it turns out he's here to stay
Just like Jesus, within three days

Resignation calypso, resignation calypso
Farage is gone, then he's back
Resignation calypso, resignation calypso
Like haemorrhoids in your crack

O'Flynn says Nigel got a thin skin
And that might be why he didn't win
We need to be grown up and more adult
Calling us something that sounds like cult

Resignation calypso, resignation calypso
UKIP turning into a jokey
Resignation calypso, resignation calypso
In and out like the hokey cokey

Some say we should give Carswell a go
But we asked and he don't want to know
If we carry on in this mess
We'll end up stuck with Mark Reckless

Resignation calypso, resignation calypso
What a farce it turned out to be
Resignation calypso, resignation calypso

We can always blame the BBC

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New "British Values" curriculum revealed

David Cameron has today announced new lessons in British Values, to be introduced at the start of the next academic year. While details of the lessons have remained a closely guarded secret up to now, we've been able to obtain excerpts from the curriculum. The key areas are as follows:


Pupils should be taught what a tolerant society modern Britain is. Exceptions can be made however for the following groups:

  • Immigrants
  • People who aren't immigrants, but look like they might be
  • Disabled
  • Gays
  • Poor people - teachers to use their judgement here, as this will vary depending on location e.g. poor in Kingston upon Hull may mean unable to afford food, while in Kingston upon Thames it may mean unable to afford a villa in Tuscany


In Britain, we have a society built around a basic principle of fairness.

Note: be careful here not to mention the democratic system, which attaches a value to your vote based entirely on how your neighbours vote and a set of boundaries arbitrarily drawn on a map.

Be particularly careful if asked why one party gets 56 MPs for 1.5 million votes, while another one gets 1 MP for five times as many.


Every citizen in Britain should be entitled to expect equal rights. Particularly the right of the security services to intercept and read their communications without probable cause, irrespective of who they are.

All communications on this topic are to be sent through the usual private servers, as currently.


No, not the dancers whose entire act seems to consist of throwing the frizzy-haired dwarf around to music.

Here in Britain, it is part of our traditions to openly mock and ridicule a wide range of different nations, many of whom for some reason chose not to be part of our glorious Empire built on military conquest and slave labour any more. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Australians - for being better than us at sport
  • Americans - over-loud, overweight and over here 
  • Germans - wars and penalty shoot-outs
  • French - see Germans, but without the penalty shoot-outs
  • Muslamics - for picking the wrong Abrahamic religion and dressing funny (note: while mocking the Muslamics is acceptable, no caricaturing of their prophet is allowed)

One Nation

Britain is made up of three constituent parts (we're ignoring the Irish here, as they're not technically British and there's a fairly awkward centenary coming up in 2016 we don't want to talk about).

However we have much in common, for example:
  • Our money (except the Scots and their strange plastic banknotes)
  • Our language (except the Scots, and the Welsh, and the Cornish)
  • Our shared participation in economic recovery (except anyone outside the M25)
Note: some of you in "working class" areas may have these facts challenged by your students. Just a reminder that failing to achieve a 95% pass rate on the British Values exam will lead to a visit from Nicky Morgan, and I'm pretty sure none of you want that now, do you?

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Hangover - Part 2015

So it's Friday May 8th, and Britain peels apart its collective eyelids and pores over the results of the votes it cast yesterday.

What it sees must be coming as something a surprise to it. A result that none of the polls taken in the lead-up to voting could have predicted. The Conservatives edging their way slowly towards an effective - albeit slim - majority.

See that's the thing with the "first past the post" electoral system. It carries the risk of handing 100% of the power to a party which gets 35% of the votes. It's a bit like going to the supermarket and having 65% of your basket chosen by someone else.

Throw in a constituency system which is disproportionately weighted in favour of areas with low population north of the border - the SNP will secure 56 times the number of MPs the Green Party will, but with only 500,000 more votes - and the whole thing becomes even more of a mockery.

Still, it is what it is and we all knew the rules before we put our X in the box. Still, I'd love to know why some people made the choices they did.

Those of you who voted SNP. You do realise that you've traded in a position of zero power in a Labour-led opposition for, well, exactly the same thing but wearing a different colour jacket, right? Your leader talks about "making Scotland's voice heard". It will be, but in the same way that everyone has to hear the drunk on the bus having a loud conversation with himself. Everyone hears, but nobody listens.

Those of you who abandoned the Liberal Democrats and voted Tory. What kind of logic is that? You showed at least an ounce of compassion back in 2010 by voting for someone to keep a rein on the worst of the right-wing's excesses. It may not have worked as well as you hoped, but why go back? It's like asking the person mugging you if they want your house keys and cheque book while they're at it.

Those of you who voted UKIP. Get someone to read this to you. You're a perfect example of why democracy doesn't work.

Those of you who voted Conservative and will always do so irrespective of what damage they do to the country. I would say you better hope you're not poor, or disabled, or sick, or unable to find work, but you're clearly not. Otherwise, why would you do something that puts in jeopardy the lives of every person that falls into one of those categories in exchange for a few quid off stamp duty and a bit less inheritance tax?

Thanks to fixed term parliaments, it's too late to do anything about it now. We had our chance to turn the ship around, but frankly we fucked it up. Don't be surprised if the first thing Captain Cameron does on returning to the helm is ditch many of you overboard and leave you to drown.

You can't say you weren't warned.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal

This is an urgent DEC appeal on behalf of the East Sussex town of Crowborough.

Heavy winds on the night of March 30th 2015 have left the town devastated, and caused a humanitarian crisis worse than any in living memory.

Homes have been destroyed, businesses ruined and in some cases tens of pounds worth of patio furniture upturned. Eye-witness reports of the carnage are still coming through, but our aid workers have sent back this harrowing scene.

There remains an ongoing risk of disease, and with Ocado vans unable to navigate the tree-strewn driveways the spectre of famine still hangs in the air.

Please, give what you can to help these people who in many cases have lost everything of value.

Just £5 will buy them a Starbucks grande mochaccino and a slice of fruit toast.

Just £10 will provide them with a warm sweater from Primark, which they'll never wear because they simply won't support the exploitation of child workers in Bangladesh darling.

Just £5,000 will enable them to cook a warm meal for themselves, by replacing the Aga.

With your help, we can have these poor people back on the golf course or sipping a nice Malbec in no time.

Thank you for listening.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Exclusive - New Alan Bennett monologues revealed

Newly leaked excerpts from the Yorkshire-born writer's latest works show he's moved with the times, incorporating a whole new range of cultural references as we can see from the extract below:

"I'd been listening to my Fifty Shades of Grey audio book, when the phone interrupted proceedings. No sooner had I pulled my Spanx up than it stopped, but by then the moment had very much passed.

So I thought, nice cup of tea with a biscuit. That'll take the edge off. Except all I had in the cupboard were wafers, and they're no good for dunking. Lack the structural rigidity of your traditional biscuit, and the crumbs get everywhere.

I was going to have a stroll to the shops, get myself some nice Rich Tea or a Bourbon. You can get your big shop on the internet these days, you know. Mind, I got myself a bunch of bananas last week and they were already on the turn by the time they got here. Brown as him next door's corduroy trousers.

Bananas were still a new thing when I was young. Sometimes we couldn't even get them, so we painted cucumbers yellow and pretended. 

That all seems so long ago. Take him over the road, not been the same since his wife passed away. Just sits and stares out of the front room window, waiting for death like an impatient Ocado shopper who forgot to press check out.

Course it's all social this and network that now. No matter how far away people are, you can always Skip them. Mind you, I'm not the most technical of folk. I'm more pewter paddler than silver surfer.

Marjorie is on Facebook, thanks to one of those Digital Eagles. I've got a budgie that tweets, but I'm pretty sure it's not the same thing. She told me someone poked her the other day. I said she should tell the police, but she seemed to like it. Back to Fifty Shades again, aren't we?"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A League Of Their Own

The current World Club Series games between Super League and Australian NRL sides have had an intensity to them that is missing from a large number of regular season SL games.

There's little doubt that increasing the intensity of games that English players are involved in will have a knock-on effect on the fortunes of the national team. There have been a number of ways proposed to do this, from getting more English players into the NRL to tinkering with the structure of the Super League to reduce the number of one-sided encounters.

Perhaps the most radical proposal is that of an English based team playing in the NRL itself. So how would it work?

The most obvious issue would be the logistics. A 24-hour flight to the other side of the world and back again every other week simply wouldn't be feasible. An English-based team would have to play its away fixtures in blocks, maybe say six weeks at a time as a mini tour. For Australian teams coming to the UK, the current NRL bye weeks could be used to allow them additional rest after they return. 

The second issue would then be how you build up a player pool for an English side. This is where it would need buy-in from the existing SL clubs, who would need to be convinced to give up some of their existing stars. 

A way to do this may be to run a player draft. The coach of the new side could be restricted to say three English players from each of the twelve SL clubs, plus a handful of England Academy players to pad out the squad and introduce them at an early age to the high standards required.

So how might such a squad look? Arguably, something like this:

Full back: Johnny Lomax, Zak Hardaker
Wings: Ryan Hall, Jermaine McGillivray, Ben Jones-Bishop, Tom Lineham
Centre: Kallum Watkins, Dan Sarginson, Michael Shenton, Chris Bridge
Stand off: Kevin Brown, Stefan Ratchford
Scrum half: Matty Smith, Joe Mellor
Props: Chris Hill, Andy Lynch, Scott Taylor, Kyle Amor
Hooker: James Roby, Shaun Lunt
Second row: Brett Ferres, Joe Westerman, Elliot Whitehead, Liam Farrell
Loose forward: Sean O'Loughlin, Danny Washbrook

The squad could be re-assessed each year, with any players discarded being returned to their home clubs but ensuring no more than three players come from any one club. The likes of James Graham, Mike Cooper and the Burgess twins could be pursued when their current NRL contracts expire.

Not only would it expose the best English players to NRL levels of intensity week-in, week-out, it would also enable them to build up understanding, structures and combinations when they come together for the national team.

While this is currently nothing more than a pipe dream, with the right commitment from all levels on both sides of the world, there's no reason we couldn't be watching an "England Exiles" team playing in the NRL at some point in the future.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Avoidance Of Doubt

Tax avoidance looks like being a hot topic in the upcoming election campaign, with the parties all squabbling (somewhat hypocritically in some cases - Messrs Cameron and Hodge, I'm looking at you here) over the moral high ground to condemn it as a "bad thing".

What might help the debate of course is if some of them understood what it was.

I think we're pretty much all agreed that tax evasion (basically, lying outright to reduce your tax liabilities by hiding income for example) is naughty. It's an offence that you're likely to end up in court for and potentially get a custodial sentence.

Tax avoidance however, is much trickier to define. In its simplest form, it's doing something in a particular way so you pay less tax than you would have done if you had structured it differently. It is planning your tax affairs so more money ends up in your pocket and less in the taxman's. So why has it got such a bad name, given it seems to be just simple common sense? After all, none of us wants to pay more tax than we have to, do we?

The current journey for the Outrage Express seems to have started with the multinationals like Google, Amazon and Starbucks. As is common with the majority of companies, they want to get as much profit as possible so they can pay it to their shareholders. One way to do that is to base yourself somewhere that has a low rate of Corporation Tax. Less tax paid means more money to distribute to your investors.

However, if a company has a permanent establishment in the UK such as Starbucks does, then in short it pays tax in the UK on the profits it makes in the UK. Not a good thing, if the rates of tax here are higher than where your parent company is based. So many companies employ what is known as transfer pricing.

This is where one arm of the company (e.g. Starbucks UK) will buy goods or services from another arm elsewhere (say Starbucks US). The more Starbucks UK pays for these things it buys, the lower the profit it makes and the company it buys it from (usually in a territory with a lower tax rate) makes a higher profit but pays less tax on it.

Transfer pricing is not new. It's been around as long as there have been multinationals. It's also covered by a pretty complex set of rules, and HMRC have a dedicated unit set up to inspect and police transfer pricing transactions. As long as the price Starbucks UK is paying is reasonable however, there's sod all they can do about it. Starbucks UK reduces its profits and pays less UK tax, with that tax being paid elsewhere within the worldwide group instead.

It may not be "fair". It may well be avoidance, but under existing UK and international law it is not illegal.

Neither, for that matter, is going to live somewhere with a lower income tax rate than the UK so you pay less tax on your UK income. Countries have what are known as Double Taxation Agreements which determine who gets first crack at taxing what income, based on where you live. The principle is that nobody should be taxed twice on the same income in different countries, which I think we can all agree is a pretty fair system.

So there will be occasions where someone receives significant income from a UK company but because they are not living in the UK themselves they pay very little UK tax on it. That money will be taxed elsewhere. Again, this may not seem "fair". It may well be avoidance, but under existing UK and international law it is not illegal to arrange your affairs in such a way so you pay less tax.

"What about us poor saps that don't have the money to pay fancy accountants and avoid tax?", I hear you cry. "Why should the super-rich be the ones who get to benefit while we're getting screwed to the floor by HMRC?"

Well for a start, tax avoidance is not purely the playground of the super-rich. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Do you know someone who runs their business through a limited company, and pays themselves a small salary but then tops it up with dividends out of the profits? They're structuring their affairs in a way that minimises their tax liability. In the broadest definition of the term, they're avoiding tax. 

Ironically, I bet a large number of the MPs and journalists reminding us what a bad thing tax avoidance is have their freelance work go through a personal service company like this.

Do you put your savings in an ISA, rather than in an ordinary bank or building society savings account? You're structuring your affairs in a way that minimises your tax liability. In the broadest definition of the term, you are avoiding tax. 

Have you ever paid a tradesperson in cash, so they don't have to charge you VAT? By the broadest definition of the term, you're complicit in tax evasion - something the likes of Starbucks, Google and Amazon aren't even so low as to stoop to.

A lot is going to be said about tax avoidance over the coming months, much of it clouded in a fog of apoplexy and social responsibility. Before falling for it hook, line and sinking tax liabilities, it might be worth considering what the term actually means and who participates in it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

This Is A Party Satirical Broadcast

"Good evening, and welcome to this broadcast on behalf of the Open & Fair Fabulous Society party.

We here at O-FFS have noticed that there are a lot of angry people in Britain at the moment. Many of them seem to be angry about immigration. They believe the country is too full, that there are too many foreign people here and that the tolerant, pleasant British way of life is being eroded.

Frankly, we agree.

That is why O-FFS proposes a policy of enforced deportations. Hopefully, once we've sent these angry people somewhere that best suits their short tempers and bigoted ideas - like Islamic State, for example - the UK can get back to being a better place.

Then there's the economy. A lot of people seem to be upset that the money they pay in tax goes to help provide things for poor folks. So upset, in fact, that they have decided to avoid paying tax altogether just so they don't have to worry about it.

That is why O-FFS proposes that anyone caught avoiding tax have all their assets seized, be given a Santa outfit to wear and left homeless. It seemed to work out fine in the end for Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places, he even got to see Jamie Lee Curtis's tits.

Finally, we would like to address the issue of education. We believe, in the words of that wise educator and fabulous parent Miss Whitney Houston, that the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

That is why O-FFS proposes mandatory testing in basic English, Mathematics and cognitive reasoning skills be applied to all Secretaries of State for Education. Frankly, there are too many Ministers being left behind without the basic skills to function in society. Standards have even managed to decline further after Michael Gove's departure, which is something none of us thought possible.

So remember, Britain. When you set foot into that voting booth in May to choose your new government, scan down that list of names of the ballet paper and remember...