Riots & Evictions

First of all, let me make clear that I am neither left wing nor right wing, and I’m not a member of any political party. I am merely a humble solicitor with, I hope, balanced and objective views some of the time.

According to the news, Wandsworth Borough Council has served an eviction notice on a council tenant whose son was convicted of charged with an offence allegedly committed during the recent riots in London.  I do not support this course of action because I believe it is disproportionate, it is an “extra” financial punishment visited upon the innocent family of the convicted and it is the result of (understandable but worrying) knee-jerking by politicians.  And what about innocent until proven guilty…

I have had many discussions on Twitter about this particular matter and there have been many responses in favour of what the council is doing.  I will not rehearse my arguments here because my tweets can be seen on my timeline. I am sure other wiser tweeters have put forward far better examples than I have. I just want to set out a hypothetical example below… no law, just the human costs…

A hard-working family of four lives in a council house in central London – consisting of father, mother, daughter and granddaughter.  The father is the council tenant and he and his wife works full-time on minimum wage at local businesses; the daughter works part-time on minimum wage and her daughter is at a local primary school with many friends. They are happy where they are and neighbours are nice to them – a decent working-class family they call them.

Daughter is then convicted of the theft of a hairdryer from an electrical store 10 miles from the family home. She expressed remorse and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, she receives a criminal record and a fine but not jailed because she has a young daughter. She loses her job as a nursery assistant due to her criminal record.

The council serves an eviction notice on her father, and let us assume for the moment the court then grants a repossession order at the subsequent hearing (I believe it unlikely, see update)

[ Update – as pointed out by @nearlylegal on Twitter, commission of an offence in the “locality” is a requirement for possible possession, see his blog post .  So in my hypothetical example, assume the electrical store is next to the council property, I do not believe it detracts from the human angle of this post) ]

Anyway, thousands of pounds are paid to their legal aid lawyer to defend the repossession claim. Court time & council legal department time comes to say 2 full days (while other more “appropriate” cases are waiting in the pipeline…)

The whole family is later evicted by bailiffs. They cannot afford to rent privately with their low incomes as the daughter is not working anymore. The family has to move to a cheaper area, and rents a smaller property from a private landlord at a rent 4 times the previous council rent, they apply for housing benefit which is granted. The granddaughter has to change schools and loses all her friends. The father and mother also lose their jobs because they cannot afford to travel from outer London into central London to work on minimum wage.  All three of them apply for jobseeker and income support benefits, they are granted them.  Father now suffers depression and GP prescribes medication free of charge.  The granddaughter now has free school meals. The whole family suffers a tremendous blow to their lives.

The daughter has even less money because she has to pay the court fine out of her child benefit money for years to come. She is tempted to shop lift so her daughter can have new school shoes, but decides she has caused enough trouble for everyone. But another person may commit further crimes – has nothing to lose now…

The taxpayers pays thousands more ££ in legal fees, benefits and prescriptions. The family uprooted & lives damaged.  Some might say their benefits should also be withdrawn, well that means sleeping rough, probably driven to crime in order to survive (how else can they eat?), more illness and child taken into care.

Now contrast the above with what might happen to a millionaire’s daughter who is convicted of the same offence of stealing a similar hairdryer at that same electrical store. She pays her fine, gets a criminal record, goes to work for daddy and carries on as before. Even if she loses her job with no daddy to work for, she will STILL get benefits.

I always remind myself of Colonel Tim Collins’ 2003 Eve of Battle speech to his troops in Iraq, he said:

” … if you are ferocious in battle, remember to be magnanimous in victory… “

How civilised a society is can be judged from the way it treats its poor and yes, even criminals. Should the punishment fit the crime?  People living in council homes are not second class citizens, are they?

PS. I have not dealt with Human Rights aspects, nor whether councils can be challenged if they do not evict tens of thousands of other tenants under similar circumstances as above but where the convictions were prior to the riots, or indeed 6 months from now.

Posted in Law | 14 Comments

You can’t have your cake & eat it

Various soundbites have been thrown by “anti-coalitionists” against the current government. Some are justified, some not. But four of them are particularly annoying.

“This government has no democratic mandate”

The Conservatives received a higher share of the votes cast (36.1%) in 2010 than Labour did in 2005 (35.2%) but the latter still formed a majority government because of inherent bias in the electoral system. The Coalition government has 59.1% of the votes cast (Con. 36.1%, LibDem 23%).

Would anti-coalitionists throw the same soundbite against a Lib/Lab coalition with only 52% of the votes cast (Lab 29%, LibDem 23%)?  I bet the answer is no.

“The Government has done another U-turn! Ha ha!”

This was thrown about when it was announced that Ken Clarke’s proposed policy for shorter prison sentences might be abandoned.  It comes after the abandonment of plans to sell off some of our forests and the part amendment of the NHS Reform Bill due to public and professional opposition.  Surely, we want our government to listen!?

Would anti-coalitionists be happier if the government refuses to listen. I bet the answer is no.

“No one voted for the Coalition government’s policies”

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined in the slinging of this well-worn soundbite. Doh! It is a coalition and that is how it rolls.  Indeed, no one voted for the Libyan No Fly Zone nor, during the Labour government, for the Iraq war, the introduction then scrapping of the 10p tax band, the hike in National Insurance contribution rates, the raid on pension funds or the selling of our gold…. I am sure you get the gist, I can go on but it will be a pointless exercise.

Would anti-coalitionists be happier if all Tory manifesto promises were put into legisliation? Eg. Raising the inheritance tax free threshold to £1 million?  I bet the answer is no.

“This government is cutting too deep, too fast”

The answer according to the IMF is no.  But of course, the Labour Party has a very well known Plan B here .

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Posted in Coalition Government, Labour, Politics | Leave a comment

The Chinese are coming! “What are we going to do now?” (Asked Spike Milligan)

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It cannot have escaped people’s notice that China is getting stronger economically and may overtake the USA as the world No. 1 economic power in less than a decade. She already holds a huge stockpile of US bonds & her foreign currency reserves are in $Trillions; there is already talk about the Chinese Yuan becoming the “Reserve Currency” in place of the US$, and that will give her the edge over other nation states in world trade and currency conversions. Militarily, China has the largest army, with over 3 million members, making the People’s Liberation Army the largest employer in the world.

She has also been investing heavily in Africa where a lot of the world’s resources can be found. European sovereign debts? Yes China has bought plenty of those too. She is on a war path, an economic one. The long term plan? Takeover the world of course, but doing it before oil starts running out in probably 20/30 years’ time. By then, she will have built up her infrastructure and power for world domination.

Should the West worry? Oh yes! Unless the West can compete with China (and the likes of India), it will slowly go into economic decline. Asian countries have different familial, educational and social cultures, plus “hard work” ethics which seem to be hardwired into the Asian psyche. A little known fact is that in China, private enterprise produces up to 70% of her GDP, communist she isn’t. Also, the Chinese/Koreans/Indians are far more productive & efficient per capita than their Western counterparts. (loose language alert – I meant the goods & services from these Asian countries can be produced & sold more cheaply due to cheaper labour costs, I do not mean they have higher GDP productivity per capita than the West)

One might say Chinese workers should be paid more and the wealth held by so few in China should be more evenly distributed. Well, nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives in China and that is a handsome source of cheap labour. One can always pray & hope that Chinese wealth will be spread more evenly but that is unlikely to happen for a long time yet. If anything, the Chinese thinks the West is lazy and has an entitlement culture.

China also has a stable political system, whether you agree with it or not, and which facilitates long term strategic planning and control over the nation and people. Some call it State capitalism, the ruling party calls it socialism with Chinese characteristics. We in the West cannot rely on what the Chinese may or may not do in the future, we need to think about concrete solutions now.

So how can the West compete? This country has been too reliant upon financial services and the consumer credit/proper bubbles in the last decade. People have enriched themselves, paradoxically, on debt. UK has fallen behind others in the EU like Germany on manufacturing, and certainly well behind China. Even the EU countries and the US are now experiencing low growth and the situation could become worse. There will be sovereign debt crisis in Europe if the current profligate paths remain unchanged, Greece will be the first to fall….

Will UK Plc catch up with China? I doubt it. We might disagree with how Chinese businesses employ workers but the fact is pound for pound, the Chinese can produce goods far more cheaply than we can. Will foreign investments be diverted to China and other Asian Pacific countries? And how about financial services that we have come to rely upon so heavily? Well, we are seeing world’s largest banks moving more resources to the East, that should tell you something worrying.

I am not an expert on world economy but I can see that unless things change, this country will become poorer and poorer… lower foreign investments (remember our high taxes?), lower national income from financial services and exports, trade imbalance, stagnation/fall of wage levels & property prices, longer working hours, a smaller social security safety net? But at the same time larger pensions & NHS bills (to cater for the fast ageing population). I note here that China also has that problem due to her “one child only” policy. Another reason why she must build her strength now before the old outnumbers the young in China.

Can our government afford to spend what it has been spending in the last few decades? The answer must be a resounding “no”. We are swamped in debt in this country, the State, the people & our companies, it’s not sustainable. Of course, the structural deficit has to be dealt with and we must encourage private sector growth. There have been many arguments in the public domain about cuts to services and welfare benefits BUT, unpalatable as it may sound, we do need to think whether we should voluntarily let our collective “standard of living” fall say by 25% or so in order for UK plc to compete with the East, before we are forced to ….

The Chinese are coming, we are the takeaway.

Posted in Economy, Politics, Public Spending Cuts | 4 Comments

Injunctions, Hypocrisy & Ukuncut

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How many of us would like to see details of our private lives publicised?  These details don’t have to be salacious or immoral.  And the publication does not have to be worldwide on the Internet, it could be a notice pinned to the lamp-post at the end of the street, the company intranet or a local newspaper.

I personally would not want any aspect of my life publicised without my consent, not because I have something to hide, but because I am entitled to privacy. If I have not committed a crime, then why should others, for instance judge me with *their* morality.

So I do find a little distasteful the glee with which some (mostly anonymous) tweeters broke and continue to break the privacy injunction obtained by a certain Premier League footballer.  The glee and bravado increased after the footballer applied for a disclosure order against Twitter to obtain details of tweeters who broke the injunction (so presumably he can sue them).

There seems to be a lot of “well he had an affair so he is fair game”, I do not agree; we do not know why he did so or what the circumstances were with his own marriage, and to be honest, I do not want to know.  And all this “moral indignation” against the footballer may be seen, if I am unkind, as merely jealousy with a halo (H G Wells) …

Whether or not they are anonymous behind a Twitter avatar or a member of the House of Lords, people who have not seen the evidence before the court and therefore unaware of all the circumstances of the case should not flout court orders just because they do not agree with them.  It sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the Rule of Law and due process.

Apart from the mob rule, there is also hypocrisy because some of these tweeters are also vehement critics of UKuncut. UKuncut does not agree with some UK Revenue laws, so some of its members took direct action and in the process have been charged with aggravated trespass.  The tweeters who broke that injunction also took direct action and they have also broken the law in the process.  You do not like your garden shed, so you set fire to it, and then sit back and say that shed was useless and is definitely useless now.

There is a difficult balance to be struck between an individual’s right to privacy, freedom of speech and the “public interest”.  The latter must be examined to see whether it is in the public interest to grant, or not grant, a privacy injunction.

Some say the law concerning injunctions is farcical as the injunction has been broken by so many people BUT just because a law is difficult (though not impossible) to enforce outside the jurisdiction of the English courts (eg. in US or Scotland) does NOT make it farcical in itself.

It now appears that a well known news & TV journalist could be prosecuted for contempt of court after he/she identified another footballer on Twitter for private “indiscretions”… Even if he/she is not prosecuted in the criminal courts, a civil action for breach of injunction may well result in damages.

My mother always taught me to treat others how I would like to be treated.

Posted in Freedom of speech, Law, Politics, Ukuncut, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Soft Heart v. Hard Head

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I discovered something odd the other day when I took the Political Compass test ( <- try it yourself).

I was tired and had a few drinks so I did the test quickly (and I guess instinctively).  The result was a shock to me as I have always thought of myself as “right-leaning”.  It probably also surprised a few people on Twitter where I posted the test result:

The next evening, I re-did the test, I had not had a drink, I was not tired and I thought about the questions carefully, analysed them logically as a lawyer would and deliberated before answering.  I specifically did not check how I answered the previous night (I couldn’t remember much anyway).  The result was more what I expected in terms of “right-leaning”; however, I had also expected to cross the line into “authoritarianism” but I didn’t:

I wonder how many people are like me? And whether they act/vote according to their hearts or heads…

And is it trite to draw the simplistic conclusion from a single sample (me) that leftwing views are from the emotional heart, but rightwing ones are from the rational head? Is that consistent with the perception that leftwingers are more prone to using emotive language or perhaps more prone to angry actions?

Should the heart or the head make national policy?  Or different parts used for different types of policies (head for defence, economy, law & order but heart for welfare, NHS, education…)  Do our current government ministers portray any signs of which way they lean… should policy makers be chosen for the way they lean?   In other words, for example, would the NHS be safer in Duncan-Smith/Frank Field’s hands than Langley’s?

The questions are endless…. but probably ultimately pointless, now where is Ms Glenda Fiddich, she is definitely a heart’s choice which goes straight to my head.

Update 21.09 22/4/11 A fellow Tweeter @Fat_Jacques tweeted to say : “Heart should lead your motives, head should lead your actions”.  Succinct. 

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Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Suck It and See

Earlier I was pounding on the pedals trying to catch up with my Pointer and doing my best to stop my lungs from exploding; as my legs turned to jelly, my thoughts turned naturally to the public spending cuts by the Coalition.

26 March 2011 saw the London “March for the Alternative” organised by the Trade Union Congress who has spent millions in the process.  So what is the alternative?

1.   Some like Mark Serwotka of the PCS Union say the rich and large corporations should pay more tax, legal tax avoidance schemes should all be shut down, illegal tax evasion should be tackled to close the “tax gap” and bankers should continue to pay the levy imposed by the Coalition.  That way, no cuts to public spending would be necessary and the Coalition could also invest in apprenticeships, house-building and other job creation schemes.

2.   Others like the Labour Party say there should be public spending cuts but they should not be so deep and they should be be effected over a longer period of time.  In other words, increase the annual deficit (and cumulative National Debt) over the short to medium term in order to invest in jobs and hopefully growth.  That way, growth and resulting higher tax revenue combined with spending cuts would reduce the deficit over time.

In other words, and simply, the country invests in people, creates jobs and opportunities for them, pays their salaries (in the public sector in the first instance) and then they become productive, pay their taxes, buy goods and services which then stimulate growth in the private sector (akin to the Fiscal Multiplier in Keynesian Deficit Spending)

There are various arguments against (1) above as in why we have the present tax regime (to attract investment/encourage growth) , the possible adverse effects of higher taxation (eg. Laffer Curve/flight of capital/lower tax revenue) and that if tackling tax evasion is easy, then successive governments would have done it;  and also arguments against (2) above as in the loss of confidence in the UK by the bond markets resulting in a drop in credit rating and much higher interest payments on the National Debt, higher base rate and the resulting hit borne by people with mortgages and loans, plus possible sovereign debt crisis.

There is also an argument that the Keynesian Fiscal Multiplier does not work (via Adam Smith Institute).

But these arguments and others, eg. whether spending on public sector jobs is just recycling private sector tax revenue and therefore “non-productive”, have all been debated ad infinitum and there will always be people on different sides of the fence.

So what is my alternative for the union themselves to use?  This is something I prepared earlier, during a mental break from chasing the Pointer on my bike.  Do bear with me as it seems like a crack pot idea and is predicated upon all the unions in this country having neutral balance sheets (ie. in a much BETTER state than UK Plc), and they all want to help UK Plc:

1.   The TUC or individual unions raise their membership fees by charging a higher rate or rates for those members who are working in better paid jobs, in a similar fashion as income tax. This will raise the unions’ incomes, but there is a chance they may lose some members.

2.   The unions then borrow from the markets to sponsor house-building projects all over the country, creating apprenticeships and other jobs.  They will pay the salaries of the apprentices and employees involved.  How many apprenticeships or jobs will be created by this obviously depends on how much money the unions borrow to invest.

3.   No tax/NI will be taken by HMRC from the union sponsored apprentices or employees. Instead they will pay back to the sponsoring unions what they would have paid in tax/NI, plus annual sponsorship fee of a certain % of their incomes. Like paying slightly more tax, or paying back a student loan if you prefer.

4.   The sponsored apprentices and employees will continue to pay the unions under (3) above until the unions have sold the newly built houses from each project and hopefully recouped the costs of  salaries paid, building materials purchased and interest the unions paid on their loans.

There are of course practical but not insurmountable obstacles to what I suggest but I merely refer to the principle.  I would argue the above is somewhat analogous to what the unions suggest the Coalition should do.

So the unions should try my crack pot idea, practice what they preach with their own money and posteriors on the line….

….  as long as they don’t do what last government did – and carrying on with the house-building theme – starting from having no annual deficit in 2002, they borrowed more & more to invest in the UK Development Project, except they didn’t regulate some of the builders properly, spent too much at the builders’ merchants, sold some properties but didn’t pay down debt and then when lots of properties didn’t sell because of the burst property market bubble and toxic collaterals like subsidence & building defects, the revenue stream collapsed, leaving a big pile of IOUs to pay…

But there are no risks in further borrowing to invest in more public sector jobs, the credit rating will always be AAA, the fiscal multiplier returns are guaranteed by Nobel Economic Prize winners, the country will never run out of liquidity and therefore there is no need to cut spending, right?

Do you think the unions would want to suck it and see with their own money?


Posted in Coalition Government, Labour, Politics, Public Spending Cuts, Tax, Trade Union, Ukuncut, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Labour’s Policies on Cuts & the Economy

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Erm…

 

 

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Posted in CSR, Labour, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment