What a lovely present our Prime Minister gave to the Trade Unions this week, following his speech to the ‘Brothers’ in Brighton. He decided to give them a further £2.8 million for the Trade Union ‘Modernisation Fund’. This is in addition to the £10 million of taxpayers’ money the Fund had already received. If I tell you that the Labour Party received £17 million of political donations from the Trade Unions last year, you’d quite rightly think that they already have quite enough money to modernise themselves, wouldn’t you? In any other walk of life they’d call this money laundering.
I have almost lost count of the bonkers proposals in the Gummer/Goldsmith Quality of Life Commission Report, published by the Conservatives this week. It proposes adding VAT on domestic flights, conveniently forgetting that the businessmen who they want to hit can reclaim VAT as a business expense. So who is penalised? That’s right, the grandmother from Norwich who visits her daughter once a year in Edinburgh.
The Commission wants a moratorium on all airport expansion in the South East. It fails to answer the argument that if airlines cannot fly to Heathrow or Gatwick they have a very simple alternative – Paris, Frankfurt or Schiphol. And then comes the most ridiculous policy of all. They seriously propose to tax supermarket and out of town shopping centre car park spaces, meaning that the businesses concerned would then have to charge their customers to park outside their premises. Can you think of a single policy designed to lose more votes than that?
The report falls into the trap of continually wanting to penalise rather than reward people. You know you are reading a bad report when all it can do is propose increases in taxation. What it should be doing is providing incentives for people to act in an environmentally responsible way. If your aim is to help the traditional British High Street, instead of taxing supermarket car parking spaces, why not provide incentives for local councils to cut car parking charges in town centre car parks?
The Conservatives maintain that any increase in green taxation will be compensated for by a cut in taxes for families – a term that means different things to different people. I am all for helping families stay together, but I fail to see why a fifty-five year old widow, on the minimum wage, should subsidise them.
The best thing David Cameron could do with this report is to junk it. And then recycle it, of course.
As I write this column, I’m looking out on the millpond like waters of Lake Como. Taking a holiday is not an easy task for someone like me who thrives on hyper-activity. By the time I have learned to relax it’s almost time to go home. The fact that I am writing this column on my holidays probably tells you all you need to know about my workaholic tendencies.
Italy is a fascinating country – slightly shambolic in its public administration, but somehow everything just about works. But compared to the last time it was here it is unbelievably expensive. The Euro seems to have increased the price of everything by about fifty per cent. A can of drink costs the equivalent of £1.40. Yesterday I paid seven Euros (£4.90) for a small bottle of deodorant. Luckily, the Euro has fallen off the political agenda in Britain, but if it ever returns, prepare for some huge price hikes.
A friend of mine rang me on Thursday morning wanting to talk about Margaret Thatcher’s visit to see Gordon Brown in Downing Street. He said he was reminded of the final scene from Sunset Boulevard where Norma Desmond appears to be lost in fantasy on the set of her new movie. Norma slowly descends her grand staircase and utters the immortal line: “All right, Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up".
It was quite a performance by the Iron Lady. But we should be asking ourselves what lay behind Gordon Brown’s invitation. I could be charitable and say that the Prime Minister was just being kind to one of his predecessors, but that would be naïve in the extreme. Everything this PM does is calculated for political advantage. He uses any opportunity to get under the skin of the Conservative Party and knows just how to do it.
He knew that seeing Margaret Thatcher by his side on the steps of Number Ten would leave many Conservatives reaching for their smelling salts, on a day when they were already reeling from an onslaught by Messers Gummer and Goldsmith. What he may not have bargained for was the volcanic reaction from his own party and the trade unions. They were spitting tacks. It symbolised for them that Gordon Brown was maybe not that much different to Tony Blair. And that would never do.