On your bike Plod!

I was somewhat aghast to see a report on the news this morning about a 4 year old girl who was effectively menaced by the police for riding her bike on the pavement for the two mile commute to and from school. Obviously she was with her mum and being 4 years old, wasn’t cycling like a nutter but plod told her mum that the girl was breaking the law and further said that if he saw the girl re-mount in his rear view mirror as he was driving away, he’d stop his car, come back and confiscate the bike.

If it sounds too unbelievable to be true, you can read about it on the Independent’s website. Note the presence of stabilisers and how the girl is wearing a cycling helmet- this isn’t some older kid going mad, this is a 4 year old girl.

I have to admit to holding incorrect views of the exact legal position mini cyclists held- I’d always thought that bikes with a wheel diameter below a certain threshold were allowed on the pavement but it turns out I’m wrong, thanks to some 19th century law that was amended by a later 19th century law to ban velocipedes and Penny Farthings from flattening Victorian pedestrians. So, unless it’s a footpath that’s been specifically designated as cyclist allowable by the local council, it’s technically against the law to cycle on the pavement.

What right minded parent is going to let a 4 year old cycle on the road during the morning rush hour?

Why I still think you should vote

The general election is rapidly approaching and yet again the news is full of depressing vox pops with people who seem to think they’re somehow gaming the system by not voting, people who think they’re being big and clever by not exercising their democratic rights. I’m here to tell you you’re not big and you’re not clever if you don’t vote.

A quick Google throws up some interesting market research by Survation on behalf of  Lodestone Communications. The biggest reasons for voter apathy are:

  • don’t believe vote will make any difference;
  • parties are all the same;
  • not interested in politics;
  • not enough information to make an opinion;
  • my views aren’t represented by any party.

These are a completely unsurprising set of reasons and each of them is really flawed if you only spend a couple of minutes thinking about it:

don’t believe vote will make any difference

Really? I can’t quite bring myself to answer this one earnestly because I’m afraid it’ll come across as patronising. Instead please watch this biting piece of political satire:

parties are all the same

It’s no secret that Labour have been moving more and more to the centre over the past few years but branding them all the same is more than a little facile. Yes, politicians as a breed are generally quite similar and fit into several different categories- the Eton boys who’s want to run the world for each other, the career politicians who aren’t particularly interested in anything other than their career in politics and the backbenchers who, if they’re Tory have a weird obsession with Europe, or if they’re Labour probably spend half the day publicly eating bacon sandwiches to show it can be done but generally care about their local constituents and work hard.

There are some pretty fundamental differences between parties at a basic level though. As I wrote in my God vs Politics post, if international charities and the Church of England are taking the unprecedented step of criticising social welfare policy, then there is definitely something different between the two main parties. The problem really lies in the vicious circle of news reporting and press releases written for news reporting. We now live in a society where if it can’t be said in a catchy soundbite, it’s not said or reported, which means plenty of political difference just isn’t reported.

not interested in politics

I’ve never understood this one. Not interested in politics? Tax levels and VAT rates affect everyone on a daily basis. Who decides them? What’s taught to our kids in schools, the schools admission process and cost of further education, all decided on by politicians. Grumbling about your bins not being collected every week? At some fundamental level that’s down to politics too.

not enough information to make an opinion

Find it then. Stop being so lazy and expecting everything on a plate for you. There are plenty of free resources to read at your leisure online that can educate you. Get off your apathetic backside.

my views aren’t represented by any party

That’s probably because the country isn’t run for the sole benefit of you. Sorry if that sounds harsh but nobody can be all things to all men. What you have to do is act like a grown up and weigh up the pros and cons of each party and it’s policies, and then take a big breath and consider whether any of their election pledges will be ditched if they get in to power (Lib Dems, we’re looking at you here). Once you’ve done that, you should vote for either the party you most agree with or against the party you disagree with the most. Just vote. Please.

Voters are important. Incredibly important. How important? Well for example the government has just spent £300m to make the lives of pensioners better by issuing Pensioner Bonds- a way for the well off elderly to get a good return on their savings that the market can’t/won’t provide. (£300m is the estimated cost to the government of running the scheme). Any demographic analysis of Tory voters shows that their largest group of supporters by some distance are the over 65’s. Voters are so important the government have just spent £300m to remind their core voters that they still need their support. Make no bones about it, Pensioner Bonds are completely against the free market ideology of the Tory party.

Is it a coincidence that the age group that votes the most gets the most?

God versus the Government

I’m kneeling on the floor
Staring at the wall
Like the spider in the window
I wish that I could speak
Is there fantasy in refuge?
God in politicians?
Should I turn on my religion?
These demons in my head tell me to

Dream Theater, Voices, 1994

The question is there God in politicians? is one that often troubles me. Many politicians of all political bent can and do wave the God bothering flag when spin doctors tell them the opinion polls show they should.

Oxfam has shown that charities have to tread carefully on speaking out against social hardship lest they are deemed to be meddling in politics, which is verboten for charities. Ironically Oxfam had a strong religious (Quaker) influence when it was founded, and it is perhaps this sense of moral responsibility that drove it to take out it’s perfect storm posters in the first place, laying poverty squarely at the door of Government policy.

The sad thing is, if we were to look back at the great reformers in our parliamentary history, Conservative (with a big and little “c”), Liberal and Labour alike, there is a strong theme of Christian belief behind almost all of the progressives, from William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, who’s work lead to the abolishment of slavery, through to Lloyd George (the Chancellor behind the People’s Budget of 1909, which paved the way for the modern welfare state), who had a strong nonconformist upbringing which coloured his views on the rights of the underclasses. Yes, some of the politicians that did such great reforming work may have had some decidedly odd views on other things we’d now consider rather unchristian but by and large things like the Temperance movement, the Rational Recreation movement (which gave us a lot of privately funded public parks), simply wouldn’t have happened without the religious conviction of the individuals involved.

So it’s in this context that the Bishop’s of the Church of England have written an open letter entitled Who is my Neighbour? to every parishioner under their care about the state of British politics, with some very strong wording about government policy like;

“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed.”

This has been rightly construed by many commentators as an attack, similar to Oxfam’s, on a culture of demonising the poor and unemployed, who have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, in policy that has long ceased to be about balancing the books and moved onto ideology.

Yes it is easy to pick paragraphs out of the 52 page letter (it’s a big colourful document; all that’s missing is “Don’t Panic” in friendly letters on the cover), and it does specifically says, “If anyone claims that this letter is really saying vote for this party or that party, they have misunderstood”, early on but given the context- this is the first such letter that the Council of Bishop’s have ever written preceding a General Election, given that Archbishop Welby has spoken out about pay day lenders, tax evasion and has said he was left more shocked by the plight of UK’s hungry poor than by suffering in African refugee camps, there is little lee-way to see anything other than a repudiation of the Westminster incumbents policies. After all as a friend of mine (married to a Vicar) recently said, “Human dignity, common decency and compassion are not politics. Certainly not the politics of Westminster, and certainly not Tory politics.” he also went on to say, “Labour is hardly the party of a march from Jarrow is it?” which is just as telling, showing that the swing to the centre right from Labour has left a lot of people politically disenfranchised as well as marginalised by society.

God has been exorcised from politics and replaced with a new master. There has been a suspicion that I amongst others have held for a while now over just who the recovery is actually for. Again, Oxfam has pointed out that globally the number of billionaires has doubled since the financial crisis, while the man on the Clapham Omnibus has struggled on. You can even see it in HMRC- they have considerably less resources focused on investigating big corporate tax evasion than they do on ensuring 30 somethings from Margate get custodial sentences for over-claiming benefits. When you have regular celebration of new jobs by the Government that are either zero hour contracts or below the living wage, where you have more children from working families living in poverty than at any time on record, you have to wonder whether big business now runs the country in all by name.

Of course the unspoken irony is the very votes the Conversatives are wooing with a massive shift of wealth from the young to the old are those that predominately fill the Church pews on a Sunday. Therein lies the problem- Conservative and UKippers are mostly elderly, both parties have the lion’s share of their votes in the >65 category. The Pensioners Bond’s that The Prince of Darkness has thrown to the elderly show how important their votes are to him yet for the most part these people will be receiving their copy of Who is my Neighbour? soon and they will have to face up to a real choice: vote for personal interest or vote as their Christian upbringing and moral compass tells them to.

Good luck to them; it’s a decision I wouldn’t like to have to make in their position.

Holidays during term time? Not on my watch

There has been renewed debate recently over the whole thorny subject of taking kids out of school for holidays. Last week there was a phone in on our local BBC radio station on the subject and this morning a press release has landed in my inbox from Holiday Hypermarket with a survey result that says 2 out of 3 parents polled would take their kid out of school for a week to get a better deal on a holiday, and that fines/prosecution wouldn’t deter them. Looks like I’m once again in the minority as I most assuredly wouldn’t take the kids out of school for something as trivial as a holiday.

Norfolk in the summer

I’m afraid I’m in the same camp as the host of the radio show, who was very unsympathetic. Can’t afford the prices during the holidays? Do something different then. Perhaps it’s something do with this whole “bargain” mentality that we have as a nation, the same sort of mentality that saw punch ups in supermarkets on Black Friday over crappy TVs with £20 off the price, but are holidays more expensive in the school holidays? Or are they actually cheaper during term time? Is a premium put on a holiday when supply is limited or is the standard price discounted when the majority can’t go during term time and the resort is half empty? To a degree it’s semantics I suppose, one is either cheaper or the other more expensive but the end result is the same, a lot of resorts and holidays are out of the reach for many during the school holidays. It’s our attitude though, complaining that things are more expensive, as though it’s our right to overrule the simple mechanics of supply and demand.

Boo Hoo. I know people who have spent £8,000 on a summer holiday but to be honest, if they have that much spare cash floating around or a special occasion to celebrate and they want to spend that much, fair play to them. For the vast majority of us it’s not a situation we’d be familiar with. Would I like to take the kids on a skiing holiday while they’re still little and will bounce rather than break? Yes I probably would but it won’t happen because it’s too expensive in holiday times and our priorities lay elsewhere. Like our parents before us, we holiday within our means- usually self catering in the UK, mixed in with a bit of camping. A big foreign holiday to a theme resort is a luxury, not the right that some seem to think it is and I’m not sure we’d enjoy it anyway.

Regardless of whether you think your child won’t miss out if you take them out of school, the rules are there for a reason. Given that the sort of holiday activities we do tend to focus around museums, nature reserves, fossil hunting, wild life spotting and so forth, we’d probably have a better claim than most to say that our kids would get something positive out of a holiday we would take them on in term time but I wouldn’t consider it. I think at some fundamental level it’s selfish for a parent to do it. Regardless of the educational effect, the kids will miss a week of social interaction with their mates, and when they’re little that can mean a lot.

At the end of the day, kids will cherish spending the time with you, and the activities that they do with you will be what they remember most, not the places they go. And if that holiday is £500 cheaper 3 weeks earlier, well save up that extra £500, grit your teeth and know that you’re doing the best by your kids.

This is where the cult of celebrity has bought us to

Whenever I queue up in Boots to buy a bottle of medicated anti dandruff shampoo, I’m assaulted by a view of about a dozen magazines that don’t seem to have grasped the concept of the surname. It’s full of people referred to as Colleen, Natasha or Charlotte, going to the shops, having their latest “boyfriend shame” or some other meaningless trivial crisis or another. And it’s pervasive- the stuff is even creeping into the broadsheets, with the Telegraph and Independent containing (online at least) more celeb stuff than ever.

In itself there is nothing inherently wrong with this, despite the fact it depresses the hell out of me. I mean, there is so much cool stuff out there to know (for example, did you know that eye colour is determined by the amount of brown pigment in your eye? or that a typical cumulus cloud can weigh as much as 2,500 donkeys?), that spending time on spotting Gwinnie’s latest fashion faux pas seems a bit of a waste of time.

There is however something wrong with the way this approach to news is invading politics. Ed Miliband isn’t photogenic, has trouble eating a bacon sandwich and sounds a bit funny but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor on who wins the general election this year; it should be down to policy. It’s bad enough that policy has been reduced to soundbites but when you have long articles like this one, based on the cult of personality (celebrity), you begin to wonder.

There is plenty wrong with the Labour Party at the moment but that really pales into insignificance next to the ideological war that the incumbents are waging on the country- the erosion of services, the privatisation of key services by stealth (often tied in with the erosion of services if you’re cynical), the rise in poverty to make the rich richer, and the huge increase in the national debt. In a climate that has seen charities as large and respected as Oxfam censured for making “political statements” with regards to poverty in the UK, the fact that the press seems to be playing a secret game to get the most gormless photo of the leader of the opposition is more than a little depressing.

My eldest is 8 before the general election. With the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act in effect, the first general election he will be able to vote in will be in 2025 when he’s 18. I hope to God by that point the fate of the nation isn’t decided by some sort of reality TV competition hosted by Ant & Dec but at the moment that seems to be the path we’re heading down…

More taxes please! How about collecting those due too?

I sat at a business breakfast yesterday where the (Conservative) council leader proudly proclaimed that for the 7th year on the trot the council tax was going to be frozen. No increase! And by the way, that histogram on the handout we’ve left on your table shows how the budget deficit will grow by £7m over the next five years. There will be tough choices to make, belt tightening, cuts to services. 

Alternatively, the council could have taken the radical step of increasing the council tax, which has dropped in real terms over the last few years quite significantly because you know, St Albans has spent most of the recession featuring in national newspaper stories as the most recession proof city, the city with the biggest house price increases and the land of jam today, tomorrow and next week. Yes, our bins are only collected once a fortnight now, leading problems with maggots and flies in the summer, yes the refuse dump may close one day during the week to save money and yes, it’s pretty much impossible to get the council to do anything as most of the staff have been made redundant*.

This is a microcosm of the national administration. A vicious circle of tax cuts and increased allowances that reduce the governments income (like those announced in the Autumn statement) has led to much hand wringing in Westminster- we have to make difficult choices and cut benefits and services to balance the books. The hard pressed working man can only absorb so much after all. The bedroom tax has made it hard for people of course but a mansion tax? How on earth can all our friends possible afford an extra couple of hundred pounds a month on their 9 bedroom Kensington second home?

It’s entirely ideological and it stinks.

Do I want to pay more tax? Not particularly because we’re hard stretched as it is but I know plenty round here earn 6 figure salaries or more, so a few extra quid on their council taxes wouldn’t harm them in the slightest. Yes, it might mean they have to wait a little longer to install that Porsche Design kitchen in their holiday home but I’m sure they can grin and bear it. If pushed, we could cut back more and pay it too because it’s the right thing to do.

Interestingly we sit in the 5th decile (or is that the bottom of the second quartile?) on the household income scale for a family with two adults and two children. Of course we have three children but that’s the closest I can get to our situation but it does suggest that we’re slap bang in the middle of the average wage bracket for our family situation. I’m definitely not some rich bloke living the equivalent to the lyrics of Pulp’s Common People at any rate but I think for the good of the country people with money need to pay more to ensure that things work properly.

Oh, and can we put a little more effort into closing the tax gap too? You know, that figure that HMRC and others talk about; the difference between the tax that should come in from all the trade and transactions made in this country versus what is actually collected. It’s somewhere between HMRC’s figure of £35bn and independently calculated figures of £119bn. Per annum. Every single year.

In fact, we don’t really need to pay any more tax as individuals do we? Let’s just collect all the tax that’s evaded/avoided. Yes, we’ll pay for it in increased goods and product prices, as businesses look to bolster their bottom line to account for the tax they actually have to pay but then it’s our choice whether we shop with companies that have billions offshored so they don’t pay tax on it isn’t it?

*yes, I know positions not people are made redundant but when a person is told their position is redundant and it reappears six months later with a slightly different name and pay structure, it’s the person they want rid of isn’t it?

As the Christmas lights go up in town…

…and Eastender’s Phil Mitchell is scheduled to turn them on at the weekend, I begin to despair how the Christmas period now seems to run for well over 6 weeks, regardless of any thoughts I have on the meaning of the celebration being totally forgotten. Every year I fight a losing fight to not put the tree up until the 2nd or third week in December, every year the shops seem to start it sooner. Within a week of writing this I’ll cheerfully want to murder Noddy “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!” Holder with a heavy blunt instrument.

The funny thing is, the kids favourite Christmas book is Richard Scarry’s excellent The Night Before The Night Before Christmas. Mr Frumble, the accident prone but ever so helpful pig is a fond favourite of ours, and his adventures as a Santa’s helper (and a stand in for Santa Bear himself) are a particular favourite. Why is that funny? Well through a series of Frumble related mishaps, Santa Bear goes out a day early to deliver his presents, not on the night before Christmas but on the night before the night before Christmas. No bugger in Busytown has finished putting up their Christmas decorations, and this was broadly the tradition; it was even considered unlucky to bring evergreens in doors before Christmas Eve.

Why do government policies seem so unfair?

As party conference season is upon us, we can see the efforts the press are going to in order to keep anything like policy off the front pages- Miliband has been ridiculed for not talking about the deficit in a long speech he attempted to memorise, and the Tories appear to be tearing themselves apart publicly over both sleaze and Europe.

I do love the way the Tories get so obsessed and indeed start frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of “in out referendum on Europe”, as if this is something the man on the Clapham Omnibus (now sadly a cashless affair after recent “improvements” to the payment system), sits and chats about with his fellow travellers. Still, it has to be better than the Minister for (un)Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, emailing naked photos of himself to all and sundry. And while I’m at it, is there some special naming association for Conservative MPs? Mark Reckless, the defecting Tory, has a brilliant name, and it’s up there with the likes of Michael Fabricant in my book.

But underneath it all there is an important question that has to be asked, and if you’ve not guessed it, you obviously didn’t read the title properly. Just why do the government’s policies seem so inherently unfair? Whether it’s the well documented cases of terminally ill people being assessed as fit to work by Atos and having their benefits stopped, or the massive rise in working people having to resort to food banks to feed their family, it’s hard to reconcile the apparent “recovery” and booming economy with what people seem to be experiencing day to day in what for want of a better phrase I’ll call real life.

The glib answer is that the Conservatives policies are aimed at the same bunch of Eton types that got us into this (Eton) mess in the first place- jobs for the boys, MPs currying favour with the sort of big business that will give out Non Exec Directorships like sweeties to those who do them a favour. Of course this falls short when you consider that those business types are pretty finite in numbers and certainly couldn’t be responsible for voting the current omnishambles of a coalition in.

A big clue to who government policy is aimed at enticing to vote can be seen in the Prince of Darkness’s announcement that the Pension Death Tax is being abolished.

It’s old people. 

Looking at some statistics from the last election, 49% of those who voted Conservative were over 65, compared to 28% for Labour (source: Daily Mail), a stat that really shows who the Conservative party is run for. Interestingly, the ageing is even worse for UKIP, who’s voters have predominately come from the Tory’s anyway. This means without UKIP, the likelihood is that more than half of Tory voters would be over 65.

Suddenly it makes sense. Old people have an inherent suspicion of so many things:

  • Labour (the Loony Left of Michael Foot, or even Communism);
  • Young people who: i) sit around on the dole, ii) take drugs, iii) get pregnant simply to get a free house, iv) are responsible for pretty much every ill in the country;
  • Foreigners, who if they’re not coming over here taking our jobs, are certainly blowing things up and generally causing the ills that young people are responsible for to be even worse;
  • Europe- because the Daily Mail had something entirely made up about the bend on cucumbers or failed to explain how inefficient vacuum cleaners were a bad thing.
When you stop to consider this, a lot of the governments policies make much more sense. No wonder the Tories are looking for a rise in interest rates- a large proportion of their voter base has paid off their mortgage and are looking at risible returns on their savings, and moaning about how unfair it is, even if they contributed to the housing shortage under right to buy in the 80’s.
Of course not every old person is a blue rinse Tory who hates the young and there are plenty of old fashioned working men (and women) out there who have voted Labour all their life. A lot of these feel betrayed by New Labour of course but they still vote for the hope of a more just society. More elderly people don’t though, they vote to support their prejudices and more importantly, they vote to make their lives better which by definition is going to be much more short term because they’re old already. Who cares if there is woeful underinvestment in something will fall to pieces within decades if you’re expecting to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next twenty years? You can tut about how the young are ruining it all by working three zero hour contracts that together pay below a living wage and have to supplement their wages with trips to charity food banks.
What of the affluent South though? I hear you cry. There are plenty of well off middle class people who vote blue. There probably are swathes of people who genuinely believe in the concept of meritocracy that the Tories preach but this wears thin when you have Cabinet ministers like Michael Gove (scholarship to an independent college, then Oxford university), complaining about an impenetrable Old Etonian clique at the heart of government to my mind. If someone with his education, who also headed the Oxford Union, is complaining that it’s jobs for the boys, what chance does everyone else have?
It is telling that other criteria, like average income, level of education and gender are fairly similar between Labour and the Conservatives, and even social class only sees a 10% point difference (63% versus 53%) between ABC1’s, that age is such a clear area where there is a massive disparity. Of course with an ageing population, specifically an ageing population of voters, this is going to potentially get worse.
How then do we tackle this issue? There are several ways to do this, including making voting compulsory, lowering the age of voting to 16 but for off the wall sheer genius, it’s over to my chum Harry and his idea from 2011:

Research shows that the older generation vote quite selfishly in general elections. They even feel guilty about doing so, but do it anyway. So what we have right now is a government voted for and supported by the grandparents of children whose long-term education and employment needs have been banjoed by that very same government. The older generation has got what it wants and has pulled the ladder up, sorry kids, your screwed.
My solution would be to simply give votes to children. But until the age of 18 (or 16 – we could lower the voting age too) the votes are cast by their parents. Obviously there are practical issues of who gets to cast their votes on their behalf – mother or father – but these are just small issues to be ironed out.


Osborne has just announced a two year freeze on the increase in working benefits- which effectively means that yet again pensioners are exempted from a government cut. As if more proof were needed…

What “middle class” world do they live in?

I made the mistake of clicking on a link I saw on twitter to an article on the Telegraph entitled “‘I went to private school – but I can’t afford the same for my children’“. It made me cross. Things often do now days, as I get older perhaps I’m not quite as tolerant as I used to be or maybe, just maybe, it’s other people.

Nominally the story is about how the cost of private schooling has increased by 20% in the last five years. This isn’t really news, it’s something I’ve been loosely aware of for a while now. No, for me the preconceptions about living well and what is or isn’t extravagant were the real story.

“I’m not extravagant but I don’t monitor my weekly shop – I’ll go to Marks & Spencer for the right fruit and can throw a dinner party and not worry about spending £150 entertaining that weekend. 

This appears to be some sort of different middle class to the one I live in, especially post kids and post the 2007 recession. Most people now seem to shop to a budget and have to be careful about what they spend don’t they?

 Customer experience consultant Hannah, 37, lives in Rickmansworth with her husband and says that together, the couple bring in a six-figure income. But the family still couldn’t afford the full cost of secondary private school fees for their sons Oscar, four, and two-year-old Jake.

 I don’t mean to be harsh or judgemental of Hannah, 37, and her husband but Rickmansworth is only just along the road from us and house prices aren’t quite a silly as they are here. Unless they have a million pound mortgage, I can’t work out the maths as we live quite comfortably on well under half of what Hannah’s household income brings in. If their 6 figure household income was simply a pound over £100,000, the differential between our income and theirs would be enough to send all three of our kids to a fee paying school with no change in our lifestyle.

I’m not being excessively harsh, and nor do I want to make out that we’re soldiering on in epic middle class poverty as we’re not but we do have to watch what we do spend. We don’t spend thousands and thousands of pounds on a big foreign summer holiday like I know a lot of people do, for example. If we want something, we have to save up for it, like most people do. We certainly couldn’t throw a dinner party on a whim and splash out £150 on it. Heck, I’m not staying over for the MAD blog awards next week as the hotels are too expensive (yes, even a Travelodge).

 “I’m really frugal. Going out for nice meals and spending money – you can’t do that any more,”

Really Hannah? Spending £9,500 on private fees for your 4 year old out of a six figure household income leaves you that impoverished? I think Channel 4 needs to launch a new reality show where they do a lifestyle audit on people, including people like Hannah, and show them where their money goes. Who knows, they might even be as surprised as I would be to find out what the hell they’re spending it all on. Even based on two people earning £50,000 each, that would leave a take home of a little over £6,000 a month. If Hannah is saying finding £800 for school fees a month is a struggle, I’d love to know what the other £5,000 is being spent on.

Perhaps I am being harsh, perhaps it’s a result of the cheap credit and the property boom pre crash- perhaps a lot of these high earners are forking out three or four thousand a month in mortgage payments. Perhaps they should consider moving, if it’s feasible.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d love to send our kids to a fee paying school, I really would because I think it genuinely would benefit them hugely and give them the head start in life that they wont get in even a good state school. But for us, even on 50% more than the average household income, it’s a non starter. The compromises we would have to make to even send one child would involve moving to a smaller house 30-40 miles away and having kids share bedrooms. And then what about the other two kids? Would they just have to take their chances with an inferior education? It’s just not feasible and we have looked into it, so when I see people earning well over twice what we do bemoan their lot, it sticks in my craw somewhat.

Gary Barlow- when an apology isn’t an apology

I’ve expressed my mild dislike for Gary Rabid Tory-boy Barlow on the blog before, in fact it’s one of my top 20 posts of all time with over 83,000 views. Now Gary has apologised. Well, sort of, in the insincere way that someone caught doing something they shouldn’t do does when they get caught. It’s only taken him over three months- perhaps he attempted to set the words to a plinky piano motif.

In case you’ve forgotten, Barlow was involved in the same aggressive tax avoidance schemes as Jimmy Carr, who did a proper apology by saying “I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement.” Barlow on the other hand has probably been taking lessons from his constituency MP (who happens to be the PM) because his “apology” smacks totally of a politicians non apology to me in every way that’s meaningful:

I want to apologise to anyone who was offended by the tax stories earlier this year.
— Gary Barlow (@GaryBarlow) September 2, 2014

Use of the word “stories” is interesting. It makes me think several things; firstly he is apologising for what people have read in the media, not his aggressive tax avoidance and secondly by using the word stories instead of reports, it robs what he is apologising for of a basis in fact. Stories are things we tell each other that aren’t necessarily true. Barlow’s participation in these tax avoidance schemes is a fact and has been widely reported. Linguistically I would also take issue with the inclusion of “want to” between I and apologise. I apologise is a lot more unequivocal than I want to apologise to my mind.

But then this is typical of Barlow to my mind. Barlow selflessly gives his time and effort to charity works to raise money for charities that pick up the people who fall through the holes left by swingeing benefit and support cuts caused by people like Barlow avoiding paying their fair share of tax in the first place. It’s sort of an un-virtuous circle. That his apology should be an apology for offence caused by stories about his tax affairs rather than an apology for the shabby state of his actual tax affairs is no surprise to me and shouldn’t be to anyone else either.


@TechnicallyRon said it better though (the Barlow tweet is a parody, it’s not actually by Gary himself).

What Gary Barlow really said pic.twitter.com/9RyO8QQWDB
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) September 3, 2014