Joe Innes

A collection of 6 posts

How To Trick Everyone Into Thinking You're Not A Racist

Top tips for pretending you voted ‘Leave’ because you’re not a racist! Not a single immigrant in sight! (that’s just how you like it, isn’t it?)

You say: “The Common Agricultural Policy is not fair, and is very expensive to the UK”.
Your opponent says: “Do you like Italian wine and French cheese? If the CAP didn’t exist, you’d be stuck drinking Greek wine and eating American cheese.”

You say: “Laws agreed on in Brussels overrule British law”.
Your opponent says: “I know, isn’t it horrible having to pay for everything in Euros! Oh wait, we got to opt out of that, didn’t we? Well, it’s horrible that foreigners don’t have to show their passports when they come to the UK! What, you mean we opted out of that too? Well, it’s terrible that we can’t pardon people-traffickers! Hang on, you can’t possibly say that we opted out of that too?! Britain supports 88% of decisions coming out of Brussels, including stuff like the working time directive and in reality, we get opt-out agreements for big stuff like Schengen, or the Euro.”

You say: “We could abolish the tampon tax.”
Your opponent says: “Because David Cameron and George Osborne seem committed to reducing VAT on feminine hygiene goods, I wholeheartedly agree that we should leave the EU.”

You say: “We could have saved Port Talbot, and we could save companies in similar situations in future!”
Your opponent says: “Port Talbot was costing Tata Steel a million pounds a day. Why not just send the invoice to the British taxpayer instead?”

You say: “We wouldn’t have to worry about renewable energy any more, and could profit from our oilfields and fracking.”
Your opponent says: “Well, that’s a perfectly valid point, Gideon de Pfeffel”.

You say: “We wouldn’t have to depend on the EU to make trade deals with other countries.”
Your opponent says: “Great! We could organise very favourable rates for shipping goods to North Korea!”

You say: “We could take the money that we currently pay into the EU, and use it to save the NHS!”
Your opponent says: “That’s a great idea, and I will certainly put the rest of the money towards the NHS. Just as soon as renovations are complete on my duck pond”.


No Benefits Please, We're British

I am, as are many others my age, in something of a pickle. I have just escaped the 18–25 age bracket, and almost simultaneously have found myself without a job.

Now, I’m not expecting sympathy and I’m not asking you to get out the chequebook. My prospects are relatively good and I’m fortunate enough to have a family who are financially solvent enough to support me. Because the government won’t.

Let me just talk you through my life for a few minutes to illustrate how ludicrous this is. I finished my GCSEs with good grades, and went on to achieve good grades at A-Level. I then went to a good university and earned a good degree. Then, I qualified as a teacher, and taught for a year in the UK, paying UK taxes. I then taught abroad for a year and a half, in Russia and France. Russia isn’t part of the EU, but in France I was paying taxes into the EU coffers. I’m an experienced, qualified professional, and I’m fairly confident I’ll be in work again within a month or two.

But right now, I have no income other than that which I can earn by doing odd jobs here and there. But it’s not like I’ve not paid any taxes. In fact, I’d wager that I’ve paid enough to cover my £71.70 for a good few years, and as soon as I’m back in work, I’ll continue to pay to support others. And yet, I’m not allowed to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance. And before you ask, yes, I am actively seeking employment. I’ve applied for a good fifty or so jobs in the past week, and am waiting to hear back.

What’s the problem then? Those bloody Romanians and Bulgarians coming and stealing our jobs? No, but ironically, it is because of them.

You see, David Cameron and co. at Tory HQ were so against our fellow Europeans coming over that they decided to make it as unattractive as possible, by passing a law saying that they couldn’t claim benefits for the first three months. This was where the problem came in because somebody pointed out to him (quite rightly) that the EU wouldn’t like this very much. So, the lawyers came up with a thinly disguised variation of the same law saying that anybody coming to the UK from an EU member state is not entitled to claim benefits until they have lived in the UK for three months.

While I’m sure the well-meaning Mr. Cameron would have loved to make an exception for those of us born in the UK, EU law is quite clear that you cannot treat EU member citizens any differently to your own citizens. And so the regulations are universal.

Despite being at the most financially vulnerable I have ever been, I am not entitled to claim any of the support that I am more than happy to fund through my tax contributions.

Please do not infer that this is somehow a rant against benefits and how much tax we all pay. I am, broadly speaking, a socialist, and believe in solid progressive taxation to enable us to look after those who need our support. Yet again, the government have opted to throw those who need the most support to the dogs.

Why shouldn’t we support Eastern European migrants who want to make a life for themselves here in the UK, when we have the luxury of outsourcing our manufacturing to them for minimal expense? The EU is an organisation that will only ever work if we are not allowed to pick and choose the bits we like. And yet that is exactly what we seem to be getting away with at the moment. Never mind the referendum on staying in the EU that’s potentially on the horizon following the next elections, if I were France or Germany, I’d be thinking hard about whether they actually want us to stay.

Read this post on Fortitude Magazine


François Hollande Caught With His Trousers Down… But So What?

France’s least popular president since France began having that sort of thing has experienced an unlikely boost in his ratings. It would seem all you need to do to impress the French is to fornicate with somebody other than your designated life partner.

The French are some of the biggest perpetrators of infidelity in Europe, with more than half of men and a third of women admitting to playing away, according to a recent study. They’ve even coined a delightful euphemism for it: the cinq-à-sept, literally five-to-seven, suggesting the most appropriate time of day for inappropriate liasons. Before work would mean (somewhat ironically) less time in bed, while much later would interfere in family life (again, somewhat ironically).

Hilariously, the revelations about Francois Hollande’s private indiscretions seem to have struck a chord with the French people that his economic and social policies have been failing to since his election. While this is pure supposition on my part, his cheating seems to have humanised him in the eyes of the French voter. Hollande is far from the first French president to stray. According to the Guardian, every French president for the past 40 years has been either proven or suspected to have had an affair.

De Gaulle and Pompidou stand out as the only faithful presidents of the Fifth Republic. Research has found that higher religiosity has been linked to higher levels of faithfulness. We can probably say that France’s experiment in separating church and state has proven an overwhelming success. In France, you can hardly move without seeing Hollande’s bespectacled visage peering out of a magazine cover, or glaring at the people opposite the Le Monde reader on the metro.

All of which leads me to question the nation’s priorities. Is French politics still a serious subject, or is it some kind of high-drama soap opera, replete with infidelity, financial scandals, and in the middle a bumbling fool trying to get people to listen to him about the issues facing France? While politicians are arguably human and their mistakes and decisions are their own, how much does it really matter if David Cameron takes a selfie with the attractive Danish prime minister? Or if Bill Clinton makes a bit of a stain on an intern’s dress?

I can’t see how that affects their ability to run a country. Of course, every now and then a scandal erupts over inappropriate behaviour, such as the recent Lord Rennard revelations, which truly warrants public attention, but how can we in good conscience criticise a government investigating every facet of our private life when poor old Frankie H can’t even bonk a sexy actress without it being printed in 96 point headlines the next day?

Perhaps we should let our politicians get up to what they like behind closed doors, and offer them the same courtesy we’d extend to anyone else. You never know, they might end up repaying the favour.


Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished

Tonight, riot police line the streets of Kiev. Protestors are bedding down in tents on the Ukrainian capital’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the big square, and there’s no sign of either side backing down. For the most part, the protests and the police reaction have been peaceful, but tensions are high, as are the stakes. Let us not forget that Ukraine’s last revolution was less than ten years ago. These people believe in the power of revolution because they have lived it.

And we are to blame. The EU has dangled the carrot of membership in front of Ukraine’s nose for too long. It’s hardly surprising that Ukraine’s politicians have finally snapped and turned their back on us. In the media at the moment there’s a lot of anti-Russian rhetoric, claiming the Russian administration want to exert control over Ukraine, but it’s not just Putin who’s been playing games.

The EU have asked for the world, and offered little in return. To fund the cuts needed to join the EU, Ukraine would need to turn to the IMF, whose position is that Ukraine would have to double utility prices while freezing salaries. The EU are not prepared to help Ukraine negotiate better terms, although they have offered to cover approximately one eighth of the country’s budget deficit for this year. Due to the tax-free zone that exists between Russia and Ukraine, Russia would be forced to react punitively towards Ukraine to avoid cheap goods flooding the Russian market from the EU, destabilising the economy.

Putin says he wants to join talks to discuss this issue, as well as Ukraine’s pipelines, which carry a quarter of the EU’s gas supplies from Russia. So the biggest slap in the face must be this most recent document, the “last straw”, which the EU might as well have written in piss on a Ukrainian flag. It guarantees absolutely none of the benefits of a rapprochement with the EU, and by the glaring omission of any reference to membership makes it crystal clear that Ukraine will not be a member for a very long time. The Ukrainian leadership has been placed in an impossible position. On the one hand, we have the EU, who seem hell-bent on wringing Ukraine dry, while on the other we have the protestors, desperate to escape the country’s serious economic problems.

We have deceived the Ukrainian people by leading them on, suggesting that we would pave the way for them to join the EU. We have not. When the protests turn violent, we will point at Yanukovich and say that he’s Putin’s lapdog, and that it’s his fault because he won’t sign the Association Agreement. We will say that the reason he balked was because he didn’t want to release Tymoshenko. That Moscow had their hand up his backside and were moving his mouth. But the fact is, only those who are truly guilty need a scapegoat.

This article also published on Fortitude Magazine


The Financial Transaction Tax, The EU, and You

As we continue to live through the media’s caterwauling of austerity, cuts, and double-dip recessions, we find ourselves in a position of power over the financial institutions whose machinations ultimately led to the crash itself. The government has a significant stake in a number of banks, and owns some outright. The time for action is now, before we sell our share back to the banks, an event which will, if the recent privatisation of Royal Mail is anything to go by, result in the tax payer getting (once again) a raw deal.

There are many potential systems that have been proposed to implement some kind of ‘Robin Hood tax’, ranging from simple financial transaction taxes to complicated systems with many caveats and exceptions. None of them, however, address fully one of the fundamental issues around which our taxation system has developed — that those who earn more should pay more. The basic premise behind the EU’s hotly debated Financial Transaction Tax is as follows: for every single transaction, a tiny portion of the value of the transaction should be taxed.

Depending on the transaction type, the value varies between a hundredth and a tenth of a percent. If the FTT applied to individuals, this would mean that if you bought a loaf of bread for £1, you would be paying a 0.01p transaction tax. If you bought a CD for £10, you would pay 0.01p. If you bought a £100 television, you would pay just one pence. Of course, the real target here is not the individual consumer, but the banks and financial institutions, who move millions of pounds per day.

For every million pounds traded, between £100 and £1,000 enters the governments coffers. Another side-effect to this system is also incredibly advantageous. It would serve to regulate the markets. In particular, it would serve to reduce the number of “flash crashes”, whose name does not adequately explain the significance of the events. In essence, many of our stock markets are now at least partly automated. Machines can make faster, more reliable decisions on whether to buy or sell stocks than any human can. So many of these AIs are now operating on our exchanges, with such similar algorithms that they create swarms. These swarms occasionally cause flash crashes, by all making the same decision within fractions of a second.

Flash crashes, although short in duration, can almost completely wipe out the entire value of a stock, and expert economists believe they can be used to identify instability in a market, citing a greater number of them in the run up to the big market crash in 2008. Often, the market rights itself so quickly that the crashes themselves are barely noticeable, but occasionally, it takes external intervention to stabilise the market, such as temporary suspensions of trading, or the computerised traders pulling out of the market all together, something that happens when certain market conditions are against the AI.

The reason these exist is because currently, it is very profitable for businesses to operate high-frequency trading bots — AIs that buy and sell stocks faster than you or I can blink, making fractions of a penny on each trade. The sheer number of trades adds up to a significant net gain. A transaction tax as outlined above would temper these trades, meaning AIs would have to be more confident about their returns than the current threshold. A number of EU states (including the strongest EU economy, Germany) have already decided to implement this system, but one clause in particular is causing concern, known as the counter-party clause, which states that the tax is applicable on all transactions provided at least one party is in a taxable zone. Critics argue that this is illegal, as it ultimately amounts to taxing businesses in EU countries that have not adopted the tax. However, without this clause, the proposition loses its teeth.

We already see companies like Vodafone channelling all of their earnings through Switzerland to avoid tax. Without this clause, this practice would become even more widespread, and would have the effect of strengthening the Swiss economy at the expense of our own. What’s more, we already have the mechanisms in place. The Stamp Duty, around since 1694, is essentially a castrated version of the same principle. At the moment, only 30% of transactions on the London Stock Exchange are liable for stamp duty raising about £3 billion per year, 70% are not, and neither is any transaction off the LSE. But the point is that the systems are already in place, all we need to do is spread them out a bit more. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that a Financial Transaction Tax, correctly implemented, could bring in £10 billion per year, which is between 3 and 5% of the UK’s total tax revenue.

Debate is ongoing around this issue, but 11 Eurozone countries plan to side with 61% of EU citizens and introduce this tax on the 1st January 2014. Sadly, we won’t be joining them.


The EU Debate

As the next elections loom in the distance, we face a real possibility of having our say on EU membership in the imminent future. However, we as a country are woefully unprepared to make that decision. Only 37% of Brits claim to have a good understanding of the EU (according to p. 135 of the most recent Eurobarometer study), and yet the results of a referendum would be significant and long-term. UKIP, initially a single-issue party, has evolved into the fourth biggest party in the UK.

Although they’ve promised a referendum after the next elections, the Tories are currently seeking to quash Adam Afriyie’s move to force a referendum in 12 months’ time. This stinks of electioneering, making a Conservative vote a precondition of an EU referendum.

Ed Miliband is under pressure to offer an EU referendum to counter the Tories, and the Lib Dems are wavering with the lack of backbone they’ve been suffering from since they embarked on the coalition. By not offering a serious alternative, the mainstream parties are pushing many otherwise moderate voters into a relatively hard-line right wing position. It is undeniable that the EU has significant power over its member states, and its machinations affect our lives daily.

It seems unfair for the major parties to withhold a vote. The reluctance is understandable. Those most passionate about the EU are its detractors, and so judging by social media and opinion polls, voter apathy combined with a determined far right could take us out of the EU before anybody really understands the consequences. So what would those consequences be?

Trading

The raison d’être of the EU is free trading in between member states. Economic research suggests we trade approximately twice as much within the EU as we would if the EU didn’t exist. Leaving the EU would allow us to negotiate better deals with other countries and would probably result in cheaper goods in our shops. On the other hand, it would also likely come with the cost of less trade with Europe. Whether the trade-off here would work in the favour of households or not is almost impossible to say.

Travelling, Living, and Working

At the moment, EU citizens have the right to travel freely around the EU. As the UK has not ratified the Schengen treaty, we do still have border controls. If we were to leave the EU, more than likely nothing would change in this respect. The EU forcing UK citizens to have a visa to enter for tourism is unlikely. However, the EU allows its citizens to live, work, or retire in any one of its member states. This would potentially cease to be the case if we were to leave the EU.

Take Switzerland for example (a non-EU member state): Brits are easily able to get visas to work here, providing they can find a job. To do this they must be able to prove they will not be a burden on the Swiss economy. Pensioners may retire to Switzerland, but they will only receive the basic UK pension (or their private pension), and will not be eligible for any benefits in addition to their pension. In all likelihood, Britain would negotiate similar arrangements with the majority of EU member states, but this would take some time.

We would be able to impose restrictions on EU citizens coming into the UK, although this would likely be reciprocated by the EU. In an interesting scenario, however, if Scotland were to vote for independence they could join the EU independently. This would require us to reconsider border policy between England and Scotland.

Education

We would cease to be able to take advantage of very cheap university education in Europe were we to leave the EU. UK citizens currently pay up to £9,000 per year for their education, in Europe, fees of 200–300€ per year are not uncommon, and a number of states offer university education for free.

Consumer rights

The EU is very active in the consumer rights sphere — it worked hard in the past to limit consumer exploitation over issues such as mobile phone roaming charges. Britain has, in the past, been reluctant to impose strict laws around consumer rights, but would be unlikely to introduce regressive laws. In a landmark case led by the EU, Apple was required to stop artificially inflating prices on iTunes in the UK. This sort of progressive protection would be lost by leaving the EU, as the UK government would not be able to make such demands.

Environment

A green agenda in the EU has pushed forward environmentally-friendly initiatives. In the UK, it is likely that we would continue in this direction in absence of the EU. This could be achieved by progressive legislation from the government making it difficult for smaller businesses to comply. The loss of EU funding for these smaller businesses would probably result in some closures, but the situation would likely stabilise in the long-term. As you can see, in most areas, it’s a fairly fine balance. However, much of this is based on guesswork and probabilities. There are also a number of more extreme, but plausible, situations:

The Euro collapses

Although the situation in Greece seems to have calmed down, the Euro is still under threat. The possibility of the Euro collapsing is still relatively high, compared to other developed economy’s currencies. If the Euro were to collapse, we would end up paying billions to support struggling EU members. Unfortunately, leaving the EU would not protect us from this. As trading partners with the EU, it would still be in our interests to support the failing currency. We would, however, be in a weaker bargaining position, as we would be forced to join other non-EU countries such as the US. If we were still in the EU, we would be more able to impose terms and conditions beneficial to us.

UK leaves — Scotland secedes and joins the EU

If Scotland were to secede from the UK and join the EU, we would risk Scotland becoming an expensive country to trade with. North Sea oil reserves might end up under EU control, and we could lose a good portion of our oil income to the EU in that way. At least if we were still members of the EU, we would be able to influence Scotland’s membership terms and negotiate in a way that would be beneficial to us.

In summary

It’s good and right that people are offered the opportunity to vote on EU membership. There are strong arguments for leaving and strong arguments for staying. However, there is a huge discrepancy between the power the EU has in the UK and the understanding we have of it. In mainland Europe, there are signs everywhere indicating how EU funding has been spent. In the UK, these signs are much less common. Nevertheless, EU money is at work behind the scenes in the UK improving transport links, restoring historical buildings, supporting museums, improving our environment, fighting crime, working for peace in Northern Ireland, and supporting our students. That said, overall, the UK pays more in than it gets back directly.

The important question is whether or not the additional trade benefits EU membership brings make up the difference. When the referendum does finally come around, what will your answer be?