Archive for British politics

Why does the Coalition have it in for ‘Ex-Pats’?

The government seems to have it in for British citizens who get on the Tebbit bike (or in their case a plane) and go and seek their fortunes abroad.

Woe betide them if they decide to come home, because they won’t get a welcome and a pat on the back for their initiative.

Bad luck to the low earning ex-pat who wants to return with their non-British life partner. The new financial requirements for a spouse visa are being challenged in the courts, but currently the Briton who wishes to sponsor their non-British partner will need an income of £18,600, and to show that s/he has earned that amount for at least 6 months, or have savings of  £62,500.  It is one law for the rich and one for the poorer.

The Immigration Act 2014 imposes a NHS financial levy on migrants without indefinite leave to remain.  Someone applying for a spousal visa does not get ILR for five years, so if the NHS levy is going to be £200 p.a. then that’s another £1,000 on top of the existing fee of  £1,500.

And that is just for sponsoring a spouse.  If you also have step-children who are not British nationals, the income and savings requirements and the fees get higher.

If things don’t work out for the young Brit abroad and she arrives back in the UK without a penny to her name, well that’s her bad luck too, because the Coalition has decided to deny her any benefits for three months.  This is to discourage undesirables from entering the UK such as skint British nurses, plumbers and electricians who might take a few weeks to get a job.  And it doesn’t matter a damn how many years tax and national insurance they’d paid before they left.

These measures have been introduced by this government without altering the existing injustice of the frozen state pensions for British retirees in Commonwealth countries. This provides a strong incentive for brassic OAP ex-pats to return to the UK and not only get their pensions index linked, but avail themselves of the other supports of the NHS, free bus passes and means-tested benefits.

So to recap:  If you are young, economically active and have the drive and initiative to seek work abroad, you will be discouraged from returning.  On the other hand, if you are old, retired and poor, you are given a positive incentive to come home. Someone should make a poster to hang above Theresa May’s desk that reads “Remember — This is an Ageing Society”.

My own stint as an ‘ex-pat’ is about to come to an end. I’m not personally affected by the Coalition’s ‘reforms’, but I’m very aware of them as a result of taking part in ex-pat forums. Just today there was a query from a single mother in New Zealand who wants to return home, but wouldn’t have a penny to live on when she arrived until she found a job.  For someone like her, the three month rule is devastating.



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Ten weeks to go

This year was probably my last White Good Friday, and I won’t be sorry if I never experience another White Christmas either.  My heart’s desire is never to see another snowflake for as long as I live.

Swapping continents involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and between now and the end of June I will have constant anxiety about dropping one of them.

Planning our relocation, I’ve found the British Ex-Pat forums invaluable. With the help of the forum I’ve managed to keep the cost to under £10,000, which is remarkable given that we spend nearly £13,000 in ’06, though then we were spending a generous relocation allowance from Ian’s employer.

The biggest expense is for a 20′ container, which will transport our books and household goods. The cost of transporting our two cats is the next most expensive item, more than our own airfares; they travel on the same aircraft as us, but as cargo. The remainder of the expense is made up of car and van hire and a hotel for our last few days in Canada after our house has been emptied.

The whole of my time in Alberta has been overshadowed by the fact that our life here is subsidized by an industry, the tar sands, that I think should be closed down. There isn’t any way the industry can be made sustainable.  Being here has meant living a contradiction and it has made me unhappy.  It was a huge relief to me last year when the sale of our house meant that I no longer had a significant financial investment in the economy. But I’ve also made friends here, and how genuine can my friendship be when I wish their economy, and with it their careers and financial security, to blazes?

I think the outlook for Alberta is grim whatever the future holds. If the world is going to deal with climate change then Alberta is going to become known as the province of stranded assets.  If the world doesn’t deal with climate change then the outlook is grim for all of us including Alberta. While I’ve been here, I’ve been very disappointed by the British government’s backing for Canada on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. A true friend to Canada would not give it a helping hand on the path to perdition.


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Race Plan by Jeremy Browne.

A  brief review.

I was delighted to discover that I could download this book from the day it was published in the UK.  This was quite an achievement for a UK publisher.  Normally I have to wait several months for British books to appear on the Canadian site.

Jeremy Browne has interesting things to say about foreign affairs. The chapter on foreign policy is both informed and trenchant; for example his contention that our diplomacy in Asian countries is often inept. His overall message is that we have a lot of soft power, and we must use it to promote liberal values in China’s century, both for our own good, and for the preservation of those values in a world in which the dominant world power is a dictatorship.

The rest of the book, however, too often reads as a formulaic setting out of problems and solutions by an ideologically inflexible economic liberal.  Sometimes Browne gives the impression that he hasn’t been prepared to think about the issues he is writing about, other than to place them within the parameters of his ideology.  For example, does it really matter that a minimum price on alcohol would interfere with the free market?  Surely the only important criteria is whether or not it would work to reduce alcohol abuse? Blind adherence to any creed kills common sense.

What I found most disappointing was the almost complete absence of any consideration of the environmental implications of policy:

“The comforting truth is that, just because one country gets richer, it does not follow that one country gets poorer.  Global economic growth is not a zero-sum game: we can all get richer” (my emphasis).

True for Adam Smith perhaps, but not in the world of finite resources we live in now. For some resources it is in fact a zero-sum game: there isn’t enough pasture land for us all to eat red meat, and so if China is going to eat more, we may have to eat less, for example.

Browne’s blind spot on the environment is most apparent when he is talking about Britain’s infrastructure needs. He supports a new airport hub for London, new roads, rail and housing on green belt land — and they’d get it all built so much more quickly in China.  But you can’t possibly understand the complex issues of infrastructure on our crowded island unless you also consider greenhouse gas emissions, smog, preservation of landscape and biodiversity.  If, as a nation, we spend time considering the options and sometimes prefer infrastructure solutions which are not optimal for the economy, but less damaging for the environment, surely that is just our nation practising the same liberal values that he thinks are our strength?

I found parts of the book  just plain irritating.  There is  a section where Browne comes over all Niall Ferguson about our past and tries to out-jingo Michael Gove.  If he did some more reading, he would discover that there are other factors to explain the Industrial Revolution, than our intangible ‘national disposition’, and personally I’m not swelling with pride at being part of a nation that built the largest empire ever known.

The reason that supermarkets ran out of products in the nineteen seventies was because high inflation led to hoarding and runs on food. So  if that does not happen now, it is not an example of how commercial institutions improve their performance; though bread, which he mentions specifically, used to be a morning product, having been baked overnight.  But maybe an ambassador’s wife didn’t do her own shopping often enough to know that?  I remember because I was a grown-up in the seventies, not a schoolboy shopping with his mum.

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The pensioner’s top-up

I’m one of the people who could take advantage of the pensioners’ top-up just announced.  It looks very generous, offering an index linked annuity of 5.84%, compared with the 3.5% offered commercially.

But, the question that is puzzling me is this:  Why would I take advantage of this offer, when the government offers a much better deal through pension deferral, since every year of deferral increases my pension by 10.4%?

I reach pension age on 6th March 2015.  I am entitled to the full pension of £110.15 p.w. So, if I put off claiming my state pension for two years, until 6th March 2017, I will have foregone £11,455.60. But, I will have gained a pension increase of 20.8%; that is £22.91 per week.

Alternatively, if I use the pension top-up scheme to gain an additional £23 a week, the premium I’ll have to pay on 6th March 2017 will be £20,470, more than £9,000 extra for the same result.

So why would I do that? Will someone (Mr Webb?) explain?

It occurs to me I should add some links:

Deferring the State Pension

State Pension Top Up Calculator




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Is Nigel Farage in the pay of Moscow?

OK, it is one of those questions to which the answer is no, but after last night it wouldn’t be one of the wilder conspiracy theories out there either.

Moscow’s elite are reputedly influenced by Eurasianism, or more correctly Neo-Eurasianism, a political ideology developed by political scientist Alexander Dugin who is the son of a KGB officer. Dugin’s  book, The Foundations of Geopolitics, The Geopolitical Future of Russia, posits a future for Russia as Europe’s hegemon, sees America as Russia’s enemy, and Russia as leading a revolution against liberal values.

As part of this strategy to defeat ‘Atlanticism’, Dugin proposes that Britain should be isolated from Europe.  So, does Farage know how pleasing his politics must be to Moscow’s hard men?  And, how does he feel about being their useful idiot?

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Scottish Independence

My husband Ian and I disagree on Scottish Independence.  He is a Canadian of Scottish descent and I am English, but our ethnicity has nothing to do with it.  He is an historian who has spent his career examining the question of nationalism and the harm it causes.  He’d vote for the union.  Like him I’m wary of all nationalisms, but I know full well that if I were a Scot, then I’d be voting yes in September. My heart would rule my head, and the chance to make sure I was never ruled by a Conservative government again would trump any other consideration.

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Goodbye to 2013 Part 2

5.30 pm, -18°C with windchill, snow.

We try to make sure that we give at least 1% of our net income to charity.  That is not overly generous, but in our defence, we do normally give more. My policy with regards to charitable giving has been fixed for several decades: With some exceptions for local and environmental charities, I try to make sure my donations go to the developing world.  But, I was made to think about my charitable giving for two reasons this year.

The first was the issue of executive pay as reported in the Telegraph in August. The fifteen leading foreign-aid charities pay six figure salaries to their chief executives, and these are the charities which receive the bulk of my donations.

My problem with this is the same as with politicians pay: Both I and my husband are educated to post-graduate level.  Neither of us has ever had a salary even approaching that of an MP.  Yet, we don’t feel poor or badly paid.  On the contrary, we have a good lifestyle and feel very fortunate to be so well off.  We still have incomes and savings well above the average in either Canada or the UK.  So, it is very difficult for me to understand when I’m  told that six figure salaries are necessary for charity executives. Nevertheless, for the time being I haven’t changed my pattern of giving, but I will be looking out for the report of the Public Administration Select Committee’s.

Secondly — Food Banks.  I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll keep it short.  When I visited the UK before Xmas, I saw that the Food Bank industry has taken another step forward in the march to the domination of most pernicious, inefficient and wasteful means of poverty relief to ever undermine the welfare state. In Tesco’s I was mugged by staff handing out food bank vouchers.  The supermarkets love these in Canada too – always less than enough to buy a substantial item of food, so you will add to it with your own money. The next step is to pile excess stock on the counter, so if you haven’t used your voucher, you can spend it on almost time-expired tinned tuna, or something similar. Outside Waitrose a woman volunteer had set out a table and asked me to remember to buy something to donate. Yes, that is such a good idea, paying over the odds for Waitrose tinned tomatoes to be given to someone on benefits, who could have bought two tins for the same money in Poundland. I told the Waitrose woman that I didn’t think the upmarket supermarket needed charitable help.  I don’t think she understood me. I resent being made to feel like Scrooge by Christians with more good intentions than common-sense.

My politician of the year is George Osborne, though I say it with an embarrassed wince. He seems to be loathed equally by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, which suggests he is doing something right. While I take the opinions of the CEBR with a pinch of salt, the fact is that the UK economy is doing OK, unemployment figures ain’t too bad, and appointing Carney to the Bank of England was inspired.  It looks as if Labour will get  landslide in 2015, and that is a pity if it means Balls takes over.

Happy New Year everyone.

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