A taxing dilemma: How to squeeze the rich without panicking the rest of the nation…

TO hike tax or not to hike tax, that is the question. And – taking further liberties with The Bard’s Hamlet soliloquy – whether to do so is nobler in the mind, even if it means suffering the slings and arrows of an outraged electorate?

Clearly, in Britain, the Opposition’s big Eds – Miliband and Balls – believe picking the pockets of those with more spending oomph than what’s good for them is a risk worth taking. Besides, the whiffy rich are probably all Conservative voters (not the case, incidentally, as some of Labour’s mega-donors are billionaires).

Importantly, the rationale is the plebs will love it, just as Madame Defarge famously knitted and cackled, as French aristos arrived at the guillotine in Dickens’ Tales of Two Cities, only to exit several inches shorter (hey, whatever else, nobody can deny this column isn’t a minor tour de force in classical literature).

So Shadow Chancellor (Finance Minister) Balls says the top rate of income tax will rise from 45 to 50% for those grossing £150,000-plus come a  government of The People’s Party.

It was meant to have been his boss’s grand proclamation at next autumn’s party conference, as the wind-up to the 2015 General Election steamed nearer boiling point. But improving GDP, lower inflation and higher employment stats dulled the resonance of Miliband’s recent call to arms that the ‘squeezed middle’ and lower paid aren’t benefitting from the UK’s trajectory out of the economic gutter.

So, the tax card has been played now and it’s a clever ploy from the Red Eds. Never mind previous assertions of a ‘one-nation Britain’ – a quote Miliband shamelessly purloined from Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th Tory leader – this is pure divide-and-rule strategy.

The bet is it could woo back into the Labour fold those who deserted to the Liberal Democrats in protest at Tony Blair’s Iraq adventure, only to find they’d backed a bunch of political harlots. And even some lukewarm Tories, hammered by the ruling Coalition removing Child Benefit for families where a parent earns over £50,000, could register their disgruntlement by biting the hand that robbed them.

TAXING TIMES: High earners, grossing more than £150,000 a year, will be hit by Labour's ploy

TAXING TIMES: Earners grossing more than £150,000 a year  will be hit by Labour’s 5% tax-rise ploy that’s more politics than economics

Yet Gordon Brown’s lustre was hardly burnished when he inflicted the 50% rate on high earners, before transmuting from Iron Chancellor to jelly-wobbling Prime Minister, then disappearing into the Sahara of political obscurity, post the 2010 election fiasco.

The problem is – as the august Institute of Fiscal Studies pointed out – the five-percent hike isn’t likely to grab that much cash. And, with a bodyguard of lawyers and creative accountants to protect their assets, the really seriously affluent won’t bat an eyelid, because their lucre is parked in trusts or offshore tax shelters.

So, there’s no disguising what this gambit is all about – politics, not economics

Yes, there’s an incontrovertible moral case for the well-shod to shoulder their fair share of the nation’s burden. But most already do, with the top 1% of earners annually coughing up nearly £50-billion to the Treasury, which accounts for over 20% of the overall take.

Tax, though, is rather like taking a friend to the dentist to have his root canal filled, minus anaesthetic; it’s an unpleasant experience, but mitigated if someone else’s suffering is all the more painful.

Yet none of us escape its clutches, either directly via income tax or pernicious ‘sales’ duties, like those levied across the European Union under different acronyms – in Spain it’s IVA, in France TVA, in Scandinavia the cuddly-sounding but detested Moms and Britain has Value Added Tax/VAT, though where the ‘value added’ is remains shrouded in mystery.

To me, income tax always seemed the fairest imposition, because it’s based on earnings and graduated. In contrast, whatever their quirky handles, catch-all ‘sales’ taxes aren’t, since they don’t discriminate between rich and poor, and impact harder on the have-nots than the haves.

However, the key to making tax work is setting a rate that’s equitable. Because, illogical though it may seem, the higher it is, the less the state’s overall gain.

EDS YOU WIN? Miliband and Balls have played the tax-hike card, but whether it brings them victory in the 2015 election is another matter

EDS YOU WIN? Miliband and Balls have played the tax-hike card in a bid for victory in the 2015 UK General Election

For instance, in the 1920s, under President Calvin Coolidge,  the top rate of US income tax was cut from 73 to 25% – yet the amount of cash flowing to the Treasury went up, the economy boomed, GDP soared by an average of 4.7% and unemployment fell to just 3.2%.

And a pet anecdote of mine further underscores this apparent contradiction: On assignment in Sicily some years back, I was imbibing a few flaming Sambucas with a clutch of local scribes and we got around to discussing which of our nations squeezed us most.

I thought it was Britain, until one of the Italians piped up, insisting, ‘No, is-a Italia. ‘Ere is 80% – dat’s-a why nobody pay-a tax!’

When he’s not playing musical beds, President Francois Hollande is discovering a similar scenario erupting in France, after raising top-level taxation to a swingeing 75%, only to find the country’s coffers fell 2.7-billion euros short of expectations.

‘Ill-thought-out taxes, from sales tax to heavier social fees, push people toward the informal economy,’ explained economist Samuel-Frederic Serviere.

So, not only are fewer French paying – some fled the country, actor Gerard Depardieu even decamping to Russia – the ‘black’ economy is booming, last year up by 10.2%.

Ditto Spain, where taxation impacting on the self-employed is so punitive there’s no incentive for wannabe entrepreneurs to open small businesses. Instead, as in France, the illegal sector expands, in Spain’s case to 19%.

So the question remains of how best tax can be used to pump-prime a declining economy and foster enterprise – which creates more jobs, thus more tax-payers, and reduces benefit dependency – even if the post-tax, take-home pay of some CEOs is panned as obscene by hard-pressed workers.

By playing the tax card, Labour is pandering to that naked popularism and we’ll see if it charms the voters in the General Election of May next year.

The People’s Party track record, however, isn’t inspiring, especially with Balls still remembered as Brown’s chief bully boy, who helped tax and spend Britain into the sick bed of Europe.

Another downside for the Red Eds is the general public’s edginess at any mention of tax hikes, even if Britain’s rich are due to be first in line for the squeeze.

Who, perhaps they might wonder, is next in the queue to get clobbered, especially from a party where raising taxes is ingrained in its DNA?


What swell parties they had, as Red Ed and power-potty Clegg wooed the faithful

Don’t you love a good knees-up! So praise be for Britain’s party political conferences, a last tango of lunacy to end the Silly Season, before it’s back to hurling brickbats across the cockpit of parliament.

Frankly, what all the fuss is about always beats me. Still, I suppose it gives the rank and file – a.k.a. the poor, bloody infantry – a chance to sound off, hobnob with like-minded diehards and have a snap taken with their heroes (frankly, I’d rather be photo’d next Genghis Khan than thuggish Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Finance Minister).

Boring events perhaps, but never a disappointment to those, like me – and probably most of the apathetic public – whose opinion of politicians can be found in one word, scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet and placed under something Fido deposited by the nearest tree.

Nevertheless, you have to hand it to them. Nobody since the Borgias does charades of unity, parades of pretentiousness, not to say a teensy-weensy smidgeon of back-stabbing, quite like our elected representatives at their annual, tribal thrashes.

TURNING LEFT: Miliband signals 'bring back socialism' at Labour's party conference

TURN HARD LEFT: Miliband signals ‘bring back socialism’ at Labour’s party conference

And I should know, because a tear of nostalgia wells up in the old eye when I recall party conferences I covered, particularly Labour shindigs at Blackpool in the 1970s.

We’d slip the barman of the Imperial Hotel a £5 note to deliver a crate of Moet to the service entrance, then get rat-legged on it at the end of Central Pier. Truly, a chorus of We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying Here never sounded heartier than coming from a bunch of inebriated hacks, off their heads on vintage bubbly.

Meanwhile, in time-honoured tradition, the conflabs don’t vary: the leaderships preach to the converted and flag up what they pray will be headline-grabbing policies, few or any of which will ever fly (i.e. Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg’s pledge to axe student tuition fees).

For purely nepotistic gladness, these sideshows also keep my TV political correspondent mates in gainful employment. So the rain may cascade, but it doesn’t faze the BBC’s Nick Robinson’s one iota, as it ping-pongs off his bald pate, while Sky’s Adam Boulton looks on enviously.

In summary, then, it’s all a jolly good fiesta for the dwindling faithful, who leave reinvigorated, a crescendo of war-cries ringing in their ears…like then Liberal leader, David Steel’s immortal – if a tad premature – call, in 1981, to ‘go home and prepare for government.’

Pretty much the same message gushed forth from Clegg the other week in Glasgow, when he insisted coalition government was a fixture in the UK. This, he predicted, would be so even if Lib-Dem support was plummeting and now mainly reduced to woolly do-gooders, organic mangel-wurzel growers in the West Country and crusty Highland crofters, with unswerving fealty to any candidate sporting red hair.

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

With the bookies offering 13/8 on a hung UK General Election in 2015, Clegg might be right. There is no telling what damage Euro-sceptic UKIP can inflict on the Tories or what a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence next year does to Labour’s Westminster seats north of Hadrian’s Wall.

But what Clegg was most at pains to do was put clear, yellow water between his party and the Tories. Indulging in further political harlotry, he even hinted Labour’s Milibandits might make better bedfellows in government than Squire Cameron’s lot, a fact rammed home by Vince Cable, who rekindled his Coalition partners’ old tag of ‘the nasty party’.

The sainted Business Secretary twisted the dagger, adding the Tories indulged in ‘dog-whistle politics’, hence my earlier allusion to Fido (though, frankly, I hadn’t a clue what the he was banging on about, but imagine it was an insult all the same).

Three hundred miles away in Brighton, Ed Miliband set out to be a barrel of laughs by lampooning his geeky image. And, though Labour loyalists found it a hoot, the act was hardly material for a telly satire show audition.

Predictably, he reverted to Red Ed type, parroting the old Left mantra of ‘bring back socialism’. Then – having already stolen the Tories ‘One Nation’ clothes, as fashioned by Disraeli – he invoked the wisdom of another hard-Rightist, Ronnie Reagan, by posing the late US President’s rhetorical query, ‘Am I better off now than I was five years ago?’

Speaking minus notes for an hour, Miliband’s gave a polished performance, even if it was littered with doctrinaire slogans, harking back to Labour’s glory days of Harold Wilson and Sunny Jim Callaghan, but notably bypassing mention of Tony Blair, even Gordon Brown.

However, to Red Ed’s credit, for the first time he appeared somewhat statesmanlike – anything less would be nigh on impossible – as he actually fleshed out some real policies (‘real’ being a relative word, since, if he ever comes to power, delivering on them maybe be a bridge too far to cross).

At least we now know two planks of any future Labour government platform: death to the contentious ‘Bedroom Tax’, the complexities of which I won’t inflict on non-Brits, and a 20-month freeze on energy prices.

The latter is designed to resonate with Middle England – ‘Conservatory Buyers’, who’ve now replaced Worcester Woman and Mondeo Man as the pollsters’ label for target voters.

This threat of statist intervention, however, immediately spooked the energy sector, multi-national conglomerates, who could easily switch priorities to expanding their portfolios elsewhere, leaving Britain quite literally powerless.

Undoubtedly, energy prices are high – they are throughout most of Europe – largely due to Russian and Middle Eastern suppliers shamelessly rigging the wholesale market.

Costs are also high due to carbon taxes imposed on consumers by Britain’s first Energy & Climate Change Minister…one Ed Miliband.

So what have the first, two party conferences told us?

The Lib-Dems will get into the sack with anyone offering them the pillow of a continued share of power – all in the noble cause of the ‘national interest’, of course – and it’s back to the future with Labour, once again red in tooth and claw.

So bring on the Tories, who kick off their frivolities in Manchester today.

Politicians, eh? You can’t live without them, but I bet you’d like to try.

Oh Danny Boy, you’re all at sea about cutting the UK’s nuclear shield

Apart from any card-carrying member of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I can’t think of a worse candidate to proffer advice about the future of Trident, spearhead of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, than Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander.

With the possible exception of Paddy Ashdown, a Special Boat Service veteran, the Lib-Dems generally don’t do defence any more than I crochet doilies No, they’re far comfier on non-martial issues – gender equality; ASBOs instead of hard time for lags; more Europe, not less, etc. – so stick to what you (think) you know, I say.

I mean would you canvass Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s opinion on curbing pub opening hours or task Top Gear petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson to say why bicycles are better than cars? Neither would I.

So asking Red Danny – that’s an allusion to his politics, not hair colour – to provide a circumspect overview of whether Britain needs to replace all four of its nuclear-tipped, ageing Trident submarines seems a rather redundant query.

Predictably, in what he modestly claimed last week was ‘the most comprehensive study ever published’ on the Royal Navy’s formidable defensive shield, he pronounced that Britain should ‘step down the nuclear ladder’ and described Trident as the ‘last unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking’.

Perhaps as an afterthought – some would say a wobble on his lofty, moral perch – Alexander recommends we only need three new, Trident-class subs, not the four currently deployed, 24/7, that need de-commissioning by 2024.

What the Lib-Dem military mastermind fails to appreciate, though, is that for 45 years the Tridents have lurked, submerged and unseen in undisclosed locations. This has helped NATO gain a tactical edge against anyone tooled up with land-based missiles, which can be ID’d in a flash by spy-in-the-sky satellites (and read this column from 10 miles high).

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain's four, Trident nuclear subs - a drop in the ocean in real terms

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain’s four, Trident nuclear subs – a drop in the ocean in real terms

Nonetheless, Alexander is right that the saving in beaching a single Trident would be a not insignificant £4bn.

However, taken as part of a £40bn defence budget – 2.5% of Britain’s GDP – it is a relative drop in the ocean, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Money, though, is not the issue for those far-Left and piously-principled residents of La-La-Land, for whom the very mention of Trident and its nuclear, Cruise missile payload is anathema.

So they’ll regard the loss of even one super-sub as partial vindication for all the energy they expended on hot air, placards, sit-ins and demos from the 1950s onwards that got them precisely nowhere.

Today’s postcard to them from the real world is that, though the stalemate between the communist East and democratic West may be technically over, we inhabit a planet where the omnipresent threat of atomic Armageddon is a worsening.

Russia might have shrugged off its Soviet mantle, but it’s still sufficiently paranoid to invent two new types of undersea-launched ballistic missiles, a new class of ballistic submarine, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, a new bomber and deadlier Cruise missiles.

As the military historian Sir Michael Howard warns, ‘The nuclear dragon is asleep, not dead’.

So clearly Moscow’s nationalist tsar, Vladimir Putin, doesn’t buy into any post-Cold War peace posturing, even from a US President as malleable and hands-off as Barack Obama.

And, at the risk of going boss-eyed, Putin is looking both ways…in fact, further east rather than west.

The danger posed by Iran’s quest for a nuclear armoury heightens by the day, as the mad mullahs’ subterranean centrifuges churn out increasingly greater amounts of fissile material while they slyly dodge full, UN accountability.

Meanwhile, those inane enough to be seduced by the smiling visage of the nation’s new president, Hassan Rohani, are overdue for an alarm call. Because, like his odious predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he’s merely a puppet of the tyrannical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who’s fixated on becoming a nuclear bullyboy.

Not that such capacity doesn’t already abound throughout Asia, often in the hands of maverick regimes, nowhere more unhinged than Stalinist North Korea, where the crackpot dictator would rather starve his people than forsake the prestige of being a nuclear power.

Increasingly flexing its regional supremacy muscles, China long ago joined the nuclear club, as did India.

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

Pakistan even has a thriving export industry in nuclear hardware and that’s where Sunni Saudi Arabia will shop for an off-the-peg, super-bomb when – no longer if – their arch enemy and Shiite neighbour, Iran, cracks the technology.

As a prelude to its final development, the turbaned maniacs have threatened to blow Israel off the map. And heaven help the world, let alone the Middle East, if they try such mind-boggling stupidity.

The tiny Jewish state refuses to confirm or deny it packs a nuclear punch, so take it as read it has one. However, unlike Iran, it threatens no-one, but relies on the power of ambiguous mystique to discourage wannabe attackers.

So back in the La-La Land of Westminster, inhabited by the party of pacifism, Lib-Dem Danny Boy sounds off about slashing Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet by a quarter.

And this in the wake of the Coalition decimating the army and having to live with the former Labour government’s reckless spending of £7bn on two aircraft carriers, one of which is likely to be mothballed on completion in 2020 to save money.

The loss of a single Trident, though, would be a heftier blow, according to many defence analysts, who say the super-sub fleet provides NATO with a far superior deterrent than anything on or above water.

Therefore, even under the clunking fist of austerity, many in Britain believe £4bn is price well worth paying at time when the world totters on the brink of cataclysm.

Hopefully, then, Danny Boy’s recommendations will receive the consideration they richly deserve…and be filed in an appropriate receptacle, like the one under the Prime Minister’s desk.

Ed’s talking b**ls if he thinks hitting OAPs is a vote-winner

There are two golden rules in British politics…convinced the public that the National Health Service is always a national treasure and don’t start a punch-up with pensioners.

So far, however star-crossed the UK’s Coalition government is, somehow it has managed to avoid the unpardonable sins of upsetting either apple-cart, despite David Cameron doing more U-turns than a motorist with a demented sat-nav system.

The Prime Minister may be accident-prone and finding Downing Street a morass of quicksand, but he’s doing a fair impression of minimising harm to the money pit that is the NHS and not trying to squeeze the last pips from OAPs.

Low inflation, meagre interest rates on savings and rising utility prices are taxing the elderly enough already, so reducing or axing their universal benefits – winter fuel allowance, non-requisite TV licences for the over-75s and free bus travel – would be electoral suicide.

The brouhaha over Chancellor Osborne’s wheeze to make retirees pay the first £120,000 of care-home costs was quickly rumbled and instantly reduced to £75K. There’s been a similar reversal, too, over private pension drawn-down schemes, which the Inland Revenue skimmed by 20% two years ago, only to reinstate the cut this January.

Besides, as leader of a party whose dwindling membership is mainly composed of over-60s stalwarts, Cameron and Co – the Lib-Dems, too, even if they won’t countenance a reduction in Inheritance Tax – know the value and psyche of the Blue Rinse Brigade.

Come election day, pensioners are more conditioned to vote than any other demographic group and Tory-minded volunteers can be relied on to stuff envelopes full of manifesto bumf, knock on doors and put up posters in their chintz-curtained windows.

In contrast, Labour, which can’t seem to decide whether it’s Old or New, is displaying all the symptoms of a political lemming under geeky Ed Miliband’s stewardship by deliberately targeting the wrinklies and crinklies.

TWO EDS BETTER THAN ONE? Miliband and Balls plot to hit the elderly

TWO EDS BETTER THAN ONE? Miliband and Balls plot to hit the elderly

Red Ed, who says he won’t reverse Coalition cuts to Child Benefit, recently backed his wannabe Chancellor Ed Balls’ plan to exclude rich pensioners from receiving the £200 winter fuel grant and stop their gratis bus-hopping (if, indeed, they ever do so).

Balls said, ‘When we introduced the winter allowance we introduced it universally in a different circumstance. It’s tougher times now. I think it’s fair to say that we shouldn’t pay it to the richest five per cent [but] keep it for everyone else.’

And on free TV licences worth £145, he noted rather ominously, ‘I think you have to be pragmatic about that one to be honest.’

In the cold glare of financial reality, removing the winter fuel subsidy to fatter-cat pensioners would net about £100M, manifestly less by axing the telly grant. Together, they’d hardly make a dent in the country’s debt.

It’s therefore fair to assume that the man who assisted Gordon Brown in the biggest, barmiest government spending spree in history – one that has contributed exponentially to the UK’s dire financial plight – is telling Darby and Joan that Labour has them in its crosshairs.

And once the breach has been made by means-testing universal benefits, rarely can it be reversed. So, if a sliding scale of disentitlement is introduced, who’s to say it won’t slither downwards to trap not just five per cent, but 10, 15 or 20 per cent?

Bizarrely, this might appease a few over-loaded old timers, who can manage very nicely, thank you, by private means without being encumbered with state largesse and they’re insisting on making maximum fuss about not receiving it.

So let me state, unequivocally, that I have no gripe with fatter cats, of whatever vintage, giving away money (though, ironically, those who’ve tried to return their pensions to the Treasury have been told where to stick the moolah, because they can’t do that).

By all means lavish what you don’t need on your favourite kith and kin, charity or bookmaker.

However, these aren’t privileges you’re undermining, but universal benefits all are entitled to receive by law. And, if you’ve been fortunate to be a high earner, you’ve paid your fair share of income tax and national insurance to justify a small return in your dotage.

I know it sounds ridiculous that multi-millionaires, like Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Bruce Forsyth, should receive pensions+benefits, but that’s how the system was designed and should remain.

If you don’t like it, vote Labour, because Ed Balls will be delighted to grant your wish.

Why some definitions of ‘free speech’ offer a free pass to the terror mongers

In affluent, uber-liberal Sweden they are still dousing the flames of hatred, while the country’s bleeding-heart elite asks itself, ‘Why us? All we did was to open our door to the repressed of other lands.’

Or, in the submission of one leading politician, ‘We’ve tried harder than any other European country to integrate, spending billions on a welfare system that is designed to help jobless immigrants and guarantee them a good quality of life.

‘Yet we have areas where there are ethnic groups that just don’t identify with Swedish society. They see the police, even the fire brigade, as part of the state and they attack them. We have tried everything, anything, to improve things, but it hasn’t worked. It’s not about racism, it’s just that the policy of multiculturalism in Europe has failed.’

Ah, there’s the goodie-goodies’ pet buzzword, ‘multiculturalism’, It might offer a clue to why Europe’s most egalitarian state was burning. Though if you’d read early reports of the rioting and arson in The Guardian or BBC News website you’d be none the wiser.

The bibles of radical thought merely informed their readers that ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘immigrants’ took to the torch, believing themselves to be second-class citizens in a nation that’s the epitome of everything wholesomely Nordic.

Both organs of the pompous bien pensant somehow overlooked who the great disenchanted are: Somalis, Eritreans, Afghans and Iraqis. A mere oversight, perhaps? Or, disingenuously, a lame attempt to disguise the fact that, in common with most of Western Europe, Sweden has a problem with some of its Muslim population (15% and growing), where Islamists agitators are increasingly stirring violent dissent?

FLAMING RAGE: Cars burn as rioters take to the torch in Sweden

FLAMING RAGE: Cars burn as rioters take to the torch in Sweden

Well, hand-wringing Swedes, wake up and smell the couscous.

Recently here, I posed the question: Is it time Muslim communities did more to combat the fanatics in their midst?

This was an attempt to derail the pernicious hatred of a minority of evil deviants by enlisting the huge, silent majority of peaceful Muslims to seize the agenda.

Because, whatever you think of multiculturalism, headbanger Islamists don’t rate it one iota – certainly not in Britain, France, Spain, Holland and now nice, nice Sweden, where flat-pack furniture makes an ever-so-lovely bonfire of liberal vanities.

What’s more, the deplorable fanners of religious flames are using our institutions and laws to make twits of us. And, we can thank the obsessive political correctness of some in positions of influence for further exposing us to the threat of extremism.

They’ll even stake their snooty reputations on the high altar of ‘free speech’ to protect the rights of crazies who want to drag the world back to the 7th Century.

For instance, listen to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK – the vice-chancellors’ union – who was asked why Islamic societies are allowed to hold gender-segregated events on campus, where impressionable youngsters are systematically indoctrinated in anti-Western, anti-Semitic and anti-gay loathing by invited hate-preachers.

‘Clamping down on speakers is not the way forward,’ Nicola said glibly, on a recent visit to Planet Earth.

For good measure, she added that Islamic societies should be left to police themselves.

DEFENDER OF THE FAITH: Baroness Warsi agrees there is no more Islamic hate-speech on UK campuses than 'anywhere else

DEFENDER OF THE FAITH: Baroness Warsi agrees there is no more hate-speech on UK university campuses than anywhere else

Baroness Warsi, Britain’s Minister for Faith, also subscribes to this codswallop, insisting extremism is ‘no more prevalent’ at varsities than elsewhere. That contradicts the anti-extremism group, Student Rights, who found at least 10 instances of Islamic hate-peddlers being openly promoted on UK campuses in April alone.

So what’s Nicola’s interpretation of ‘free speech’? Extending free passes to disciples of Abu Qatada, Omar Bakri Mohammed, hook-clawed Abu Hamza and Anjem Choudary to spout invective that defiles our democratic principles (at least Bakri was ejected from Britain, Hamza deported to the USA and hopefully Qatada will soon be packed off to Jordan)?

And how do we deal with mosques hijacked by ‘militants’ – that’s BBC-speak for terror-mongers, since the ‘T’ word is banned by Left-leaning Auntie (though, odious Choudary, an apologist for murder and once leader of now outlawed Al-Muhajiroun, is a welcome guest on Newsnight)?

Or are we supposed to tolerate friendly, neighbour bookshops, flogging DIY bomb-making manuals and the 10 best ways to behead an infidel?

Even UK jails have become breeding grounds for rabid Islamists, as illustrate by last week’s brutal attack on a warder in Full Sutton Prison, East Yorkshire.

So what I – and, no doubt, now many Swedes – want to know from Nicola and her ilk is: Define your version of ‘free speech’? Because I know what mine is…and among other proscriptions, I cannot spew racism or incite others to acts of religious aggression.

To me, freedom of speech is a privilege, not a right to abuse. And those who defend it irresponsibly are dunderheads in dire need of gagging. Far from being the protectors of a democratic virtue, they are playing into the hands of its destroyers.

That’s why the West must sing from the same hymn sheet in dealing with extremism, particularly of the Islamo-fascist persuasion, and learn best practices from each other.

As I’ve written before, France brooks no dissent when it comes to extraditing fomenters of terror. Adieu – or words to that effect – they say, without going through the inanity of consulting the European Court of Sub-Human Rights, while the Americans simply revoke citizenship and escort malcontents to the nearest international airport.

After the 7/7 London bombings, Britain’s answer was Prevent, an ostensibly tough regime intended to crack down on fanatics. However, so liberally absurd was it implemented, the government and local authorities actually funded the very lunatics Prevent was supposed to prevent…to ‘engage’ with them.

In one instance, £113,411 was given to a foundation linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir to establish Islamic schools, where an ‘Islamic personality’ would be implanted into pupils. It’s worth noting – as ministers were well aware – Hizb sought the destruction of the British state, vilified assimilation and wanted Sharia law imposed on the nation.

Currently, as the UK is locked in soul-searching following the dastardly murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, controversy surrounds a new Communications Bill that would give security services more powers to scrutinise emails, phone calls and text messages.

The Lib-Dems label this a ‘snooper’s charter’ and are dead against it (hence, it must be a good idea).

Meantime, Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, says current UK laws exist to ensure hate-preachers don’t incite violence or disorder.

Perhaps he should pass that information onto the pussy-footing police and judiciary, so we can all have our free speech protected…especially from repellent Islamists.


Lib-Dumbs weren’t the winners in the Eastleigh by-election – it was UKIP

You’ll probably be bored to distraction by acres of newsprint today, as the heavyweight pundits – those who boast ‘inside sources’ so close to the Whitehall merry-go-round, they even know which brand of loo paper Samantha Cameron buys from Harrods – pick over the bones of the Eastleigh by-election.

But not here you won’t, I hope. Because, to play on words, the result of the vote in the Hampshire town, whose main claims to fame are railways, Benny Hill’s birthplace and the headquarters of B&Q, was a bygone (or foregone) conclusion before even a ballot was cast.

It’s so utterly rock-solid Lib-Dumb – pardon me; Freudian slip, meant to say Lib-Dem – no shift in the political tectonic plates will move a constituency brainwashed to think and dream in yellow. The local council’s overwhelmingly Lib-Dem yellow and the previous, two MPs, Chris Huhne and David Chidgey, now in the Lords, sported yellow war-paint.

Despite Huhne, the disgraced ex-Minister for Energy, causing the by-election by having been exposed as lying through his molars about his ex-wife taking the rap for a speeding offence, there was never the slightest danger of Eastleigh falling into the dastardly clutches of any other political entity.

In fact, if they’d put up Iggle Piggle, Makka Pakka or Upsy Daisy, the Lib-Dems would have still been breaking open the champers (well, maybe organic Blue Nun in their case).

Not even the pong of scandal surrounding Lord Chris Rennard – currently under observation by the plods for allegedly using his position in the party hierarchy to sexually ingratiate his considerable bulk on ambitious female apparatchiks – could dissuade voters from returning yet another candidate, swathed in jaundice yellow.

And, while Mike Thornton didn’t win on Thursday by the proverbial country mile, he did nab 13,342 votes – at 32%, some 14.48% down on 2010 – to ensure the Lib-Dem dynasty survived.

Not even his master and leader, Nick Clegg’s embarrassing bout of amnesia, apropos when he exactly heard rumours of Rennard’s alleged aberrations – Cleggy had a sudden rush of recall and it was 2008, not just a couple of weeks ago, as he inadvertently first asserted – made an iota of difference to the Great Eastleigh Yellow-washed.

However, the Lib-Dems continue to wallow in a slough of despond elsewhere throughout Britain, their opinion poll ratings slumped to sub-10% popularity.

The reason why is simple: unlike in indoctrinated Eastleigh, less generous voters don’t/won’t forgive Clegg’s sell-out by hitching the Lib-Dem wagon to the despised Tories; of breaking just about every promise in the party’s 2010 manifesto, particularly on tuition fees; and hiding his power lust behind a veil of acting in the ‘national interest’.

One wonders, then, what purpose the Lib-Dems actually serve, apart from being Tory cannon-fodder?

DANGER MAN: Nigel Farage has signalled UKIP's intention of upsetting the political applecart

DANGER MAN: Nigel Farage has delivered on UKIP’s intent to upset the political applecart

Under the Coalition agreement, they got their referendum on opening the door a crack to proportional representation and received a bloody nose from the electorate. Similar fates met their burning yens to reform the House of Lords, education and the NHS.

So, the short-termism of the Beloved Leader is still likely to backfire when a General Election comes round in 2015, which is why it’s a real possibility Clegg will fail to see out his tenure as the Coalition’s junior prefect.

The shock of Eastleigh, then, wasn’t the Lib-Dems retaining a seat dynamite wouldn’t shift them from, but the abysmal failure of the Tories to score even an honourable second. Eastleigh was 16th on their hit-list of winnable constituencies, yet they could only claim the bronze podium.

Third, even at a time when Britain is beset by all manner of woes – not just financial and the loss of a AAA rating Chancellor George Osborne insisted was his gold standard – is fourth rate by any stretch of the public’s imagination.

And what in creation were the Tories doing with a candidate like Maria Hutchings, who can be described sympathetically as ‘eccentric’, though weirdo would also be appropriate?

Even the Conservative hierarchy feared she was a loose cannon, a flaw she underscored by insisting local schools weren’t good enough for her ‘gifted’ son’s ambitions to be a surgeon, dodging a Radio 5 Live inter-candidate debate and sounding off (script) on topics ranging from the EU and abortion to gay marriage.

Small wonder, following the count, Hutchings could only grin like the Cheshire Cat and remain obdurately silent, as reporters pressed her for what went disastrously haywire.

Had the woman, a mother of five and previously branded ‘a snob’ by locals, come up with a plausible excuse for leading the Cameroons up the scaffold, she couldn’t have blamed UKIP, since the former loony-fringe party took away votes from the big three in equal measure.

In fact, far from being nutters and bigots, as the Prime Minister dubbed them, under Nigel Farage’s canny leadership, UKIP has been refashioned into a genuine alternative to the established mainstream and not just a bunch of spoiling, dissenting opportunists, grabbing protest votes wherever they can filch them.

Undoubtedly, UKIP still has its crazies, but so do the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib-Dems, such has always been the nature of politics and its ability to attract oddballs.

However, Cameron accurately identified the potential menace of UKIP long ago, which is why he promised the ‘in-out’ plebiscite on European Union membership and how he came to block the profligate Eurobrats’ budget demands for yet more moolah to fritter away.

Yet, far from soothing the inflamed passions of voters and outflanking UKIP, the Tories’ Eastleigh farce will have only worsened his frustrations. Because, according to the pollsters, one issue surfaced at the top of the pile of public concerns: immigration.

And there is zilch the PM can do if Britain is forced – by EU decree – to open its doors to a potential floodtide of Bulgarians and Rumanians later this year.

Neither, for that matter, can Farage. But he will be far more vocal, outspoken and populist about it and, for good or ill, his opinions will resonate with hordes of disenchanted electors.

Of course, UKIP has far to go before it can make the ultimate breakthrough into parliament. But one more by-election push in a ‘soft’ seat – and don’t rule out it being a Labour stronghold in the North – could consolidate their momentum.

Cameron saw the danger signs and so, now, does Clegg. If Ed Milliband doesn’t, Labour has a nasty shock coming.

EU referendum: Why Cameron’s ‘In or Out?’ is the wrong question to ask the voters…

To be or not to be, that is the question. No, I’m not from quoting Hamlet’s soliloquy, but UK Prime Minister David – ‘Call me Dave’ – Cameron on asking Britons where they fit…in or out of the European Union. Bluntly put and as simple as that.

After threatening for what seemed a small, political eternity to pull the trigger on a referendum, he finally found the balls and gall to do it, by saying last Thursday the people would have the choice of being Europeans or plain, old Brits.

Well almost, nearly, not quite, perhaps and subject to more caveats than I’ve got odd socks.

Firstly, the plebiscite won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest. It will also take place only if the Conservatives, minus meddling Europhile Lib-Dems, win an outright majority in the 2015 general election. And that’s no given.

Furthermore, making we, the public, judge and jury will depend on what renegotiated terms Dave can wring out of fellow EU leaders beforehand about reforming some of the bloc’s barmier rules and returning sovereignty, ceded under various arcane treaties, back to Britain (the European Court of Human Rights overriding the justice of Britain’s Supreme Court is a prime example).

Of course, the bait of a referendum could be just political brinksmanship to outflank the expanding appeal of UKIP and mop the fevered brows of Tory Eurosceptics, who would rather go back to minting groats than having the euro foisted upon them and dread the creeping, centralised control of Brussels’ Europrats.

For his part, Dave’s made his personal intentions transparent, insists he does not want Britain to quit the 27-nation alignment and would ‘fight with all my heart and soul’ for a ‘Yes’ vote if/when the time comes.

But he does concede the British public’s latent mistrust of the EU is growing and democratic consent is now ‘wafer thin’. Plus, it is nearly 38 years since our island nation had a say in their EU future and way back then, in 1975, it was for a free-trade Common Market, not a United States of Europe.

The fragility of the euro hasn’t contributed to confidence, even if Britain has chosen to retain the £. And many older-timers amongst the electorate harbour xenophobic inclinations, probably best summed up by a London newspaper headline of the 1930s, stating, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’

These rather archaic views, I suspect, are not shared by a younger, cosmopolitan generation, whom Dave hopes will drive him over the ‘Yes’ vote line, if only they can be persuaded to bother turning out if/when said referendum happens.

Meanwhile, the knee-jerk reaction from our European buddies to Dave’s announcement has been predictably mixed.

QUESTIONABLE QUESTION: Asking Brits to vote 'In' or 'Out' could wreck Cameron's strategy

QUESTIONABLE QUESTION: Could Cameron have boobed by what he’s asking Brits to vote on?

The French (who else!) say they’ll put out the red carpet ushering us to the exit, though German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is more sanguine, saying she was prepared to ‘talk about British wishes’ to try and achieve a ‘fair compromise’.

But then pragmatic ‘Mutti’ (Mother) Merkel understands the benefits of having Britain on board, because her voters are wearied of paying for what they perceive are feckless Latins living on tick and anonymous paper-shufflers inventing new rules, based on a half-baked, Gallic model of a Euro superstate.

Plus, Merkel knows Brits share the Anglo-Saxon work ethic and mercantile values with her folk, as do the Swedes, who stuck to their krone and equally abhor the omnipotence of Brussels.

All three nations – along with Holland – are cognisant of the advantages of being part of a trading bloc, with 300 million potential consumers, and believe they stick more rigidly to the EU rules, however daft some are, than the laissez-faire Southerners.

Anyone – like yours truly – who has lived south of whatever notional border divides the EU geographically and politically knows how stupidly hidebound bureaucracy is in countries like Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Greece. They realise, too, that welters of red tape can be hacked away, leaving a sleeker, fairer and more functional society, where greater transparency reigns and corruption is marginalised.

That is basically what the majority of Britons seek, most of all less European interference in the affairs of a country that has fashioned itself into a bastion of democracy, warts and all, over a millennium.

In other words the old free-trade deal.

That’s why I believe Dave’s ‘In or out’ question to the masses is the wrong one and a high-stakes gambit, which – if it turned turtle – would play into the hands of our foes across the Channel (of which there are many).

The question I think the PM should have posed is, ‘Do you prefer a Common Market or a centralised United States of Europe?’

I’d guess Brits would opt for the Market, which would placate Eurosceptics and leave him with enough wriggle room to renegotiate better terms for the UK.

It would also have armed him with a mandate that left Britain retaining a seat at the EU high table, fired a warning shot across the federalists’ bows and given our allies (we have some of those, too) confidence they could stand beside us and push against further, unwarranted integration.

However, this is not the time yet to discuss the emotional aspects of a highly emotive topic. Tempers need to cool and the pros and cons carefully weighed before such a momentous decision can be reached.

Besides, it may never happen. At least in 2017.

The EU may fragment by then, though the euros’ ills seem less critical than a half-year ago, before the European Central Bank vowed to ride, like the Seventh Cavalry, to further rescues (but remember the fate of Colonel Custer).

Still, in putting his money where his mouth and posing such a direct, ‘In/Out’ question, Dave has taken a monumental gamble on Britain’s future.

And his party could pay the ultimate price for it…the UK’s excommunication from the EU and no veto over new treaties that underpin an eventual United States of Europe.

Good Lords! If the Upper Chamber ain’t broke, why fix it?

Some things work, despite confounding all expectation and logic. And, in its present manifestation, one is Britain’s so-called Upper Chamber – or ‘The Other Place’, as MPs refer to it with quaint arcaneness – the House of Lords.

Long gone are the days when it was an exclusive club for geriatric members of the aristocracy, a God’s waiting room for barons of the shires to discuss pig breeding, the merits of single malt whisky, the high cost of maintaining a dominatrix and how the peasants were revolting, if only in terms of pong.

The hereditary dukes, earls, viscounts, etc and et al, were given the heave-ho from the red benches in 1999, leaving a rump of 92 nobs to be ‘working peers’ along with an assortment of odds and sods – generally ex-ministers and MPs, past their use-by dates – who’d been appointed life lordships.

The Lords’ job was to act as a check and balance to the Commons, to scrutinise Bills before they became law, iron out wrinkles in them and put the handbrake on government attempts to make a twerp of itself. And, though their remit is limited, for most practical purposes they’ve made a pretty decent fist of it.

For reasons claimed to be ‘furthering democracy’ the Liberals and their reincarnation, the Lib-Dems, have, for over a century, had a maniacal obsession with reforming the Lords or, better still, abolishing it in favour of an elected Senate. This, history-lovers may feel, is a bit rich, coming from a party whose greater leader, Lloyd George, made a fortune flogging aristocractic handles.

So, at a critical time when the world’s finances are going to Hades in a handcart and half the country is a swimming pool, today – as yesterday – the Commons expends valuable time and energy debating reform of the Upper Chamber, a subject we in the vulgar hoi polloi care as much about as blindfold bog-snorkelling.

CHAMBER OF CHANGE? It will be if the Lib-Dems have their way

Not wishing to prejudge the vote, a rumoured revolt of up to 90 Tory backbenchers will join Labour and naysay the reform proposal – mainly that 80% of a new House of Lords will be elected (by who – who only know?) – and kill it dead, at least until the next time.

Because, if they succeed, it will scupper Nick Clegg’s earnest desire to usher in proportional representation (PR) via the back-door, since that is what the Lib-Dems have in mind for a reformed Lords.

Having failed to convince the Great British electorate in a 2011 referendum that AV (the alternative vote) is more equitable than a transparent, uncomplicated, first-past-the-post election system, Tricky Nicky is at it again, this time seeking to use the Lords as a template to usher in PR.

Politically speaking, I suppose you can’t blame him for trying. Because any form of PR favours mini parties, who can bank on seats round the Cabinet table, since the probability is that future General Elections will produce hung parliaments, so the Lib-Dems will hold a balance of power disproportionate to their votes (as they do now in the cobbled-together Tory-led coalition).

However much its supporters claim that PR is ‘more democratic’ it plainly isn’t, as many countries who’ve tried it discovered to their cost. It generally produces weaker government, giving rump parties, like Clegg’s ‘yellow-ties’, a whip-hand the electorate never envisaged.

That’s why I hope the rebels succeed tonight in overturning this Lords Reform Bill.

The Upper Chamber may not be perfect and it is, indeed, overloaded with ermined members (over 800 of them). But what threatens to replace it is hardly likely to be an improvement.

In other words, if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

A salute to birthday boy Frank, one of Mallorca’s finest

We band of brothers, The Portals Press Club (PPC) of Mallorca, are nothing if not a generous, compassionate lot, so we came together, en masse, this morning to celebrate the forthcoming birthday (tomorrow) of our upstanding-when-sober member, Frank Leavers.

Money being no object, we pushed the proverbial boat out and bought him a candle to blow on in a croissant borrowed from a neighbouring table at Chameli’s, the legendary Portals Nous watering-hole that is the PPC’s spiritual home each Tuesday a.m. (guests welcome only by prior appointment).

Island-dwellers are familiar with Frank’s wit and wisdom from the weekly column he scribes for the Daily Bulletin and his commitment to his personal, journalistic dictum, ‘Never use 10 words when a thousand will do.’

‘Show me the space,’ he adds diligently, ‘and I’ll fill it.’

It should be noted this maxim has no connection whatsoever to Frank’s days at sea, when he took The Queen’s shilling and – according to malicious gossip – rose without trace from cabin-boy to stoker second class, before gaining entree to the wardroom at the captain’s port side.

Salt water courses through Frank’s veins, for he hails from Eastleigh, Hampshire, the village (sadly now reduced to a suburb of Southampton) where the wily locals are once said to have constructed a three-foot high, wattle-and-daub fence to keep the cuckoo in.

Other landmarks in Frank’s illustrious career are the sterling work he did in making the Liberal Democrats unelectable – he was a paid, party agent – before moving into PR and coining the immortal slogan: ‘Cardiff is the world’s most exciting waterfront.’

Understandably, denizens of Shanghai, Sydney, San Francisco and Hartlepool may cavil a tad at that boast.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Frank celebrates his birthday with a borrowed croissant – Photo: El Hammondo

Some untold number of years ago, Frank and his partner – the striking, raven-haired Julie – founded the highly-successful My Majorca Wedding; hence it’s not unreasonable to conclude he has assisted in arranging the nuptials of more brides than a serial bigamist.

And let us not forget his selfless efforts for Majorca Cricket Club, where, in one tight match, he heroically fielded a sweetly-driven off-drive with his teeth. Such are the wonders of modern dentistry, you can hardly see the join.

Still boyishly handsome, urbane and one of nature’s gentlemen, his brethren at the PPC fraternally salute Frank as he celebrates, by his calculation, the big Six-Oh (‘You know what liars journalists are!’ – Ed).

So, old friend, may you never flounder on the rocks of life and long may you regale us with your telling observations and gripping tales of….er?