Thursday, 28 June 2012

Air Passenger Duty: A Fair Tax On Flying?

Time for a break from writing about writing. One particularly iniquitous stealth tax in the UK is Air Passenger Duty, the levy on passengers flying from a UK airport. What was once an irritating fleabite has become a festering wound for already hard pressed travellers, riddled with anomalies that hit flights to Caribbean islands – and in turn their tourist revenue - harder than flights to the USA. And the pretence that it was a necessary weapon in the fight against climate change (what, when a jet still takes off on schedule regardless of whether it is nearly full or nearly empty?) has long given way to the admission that it is a revenue raising measure, pure and simple, alongside other so-called sin taxes.

So I was only too pleased to follow the suggestion from A Fair Tax On Flying, to complete their standard form email for despatch to my local MP by way of protest. In the space for additional comments, I mentioned the Caribbean anomaly, and the fact that if long haul flyers hopped over to Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt for the bulk of their onward journey, their very understandable personal saving on APD would cause major damage to the UK aviation industry. (The latter point is not surprisingly recognised by the Dutch, who charge no APD.)

I suppose that I should not have expected anything more than a standard form response to a standard form email, but this one from my local MP (whose name I will withhold) really took the biscuit: -

“Thank you for contacting me about Air Passenger Duty.

“The Government inherited the highest structural budget deficit of any major economy in the world and the highest deficit in our peacetime history. The UK is paying over £120 million every day on debt interest payments alone. APD makes an important contribution to reducing the nation’s deficit and this must be taken into account.

“Last year the Government launched a consultation on APD to improve the fairness and efficiency of the system. Ministers recognise the importance of the aviation industry which is why the Budget in 2011 announced APD would be frozen for 2011-2 and the rise would take place this April instead. I do of course recognise the impact this tax has on the cost of family holidays, especially at a time when household spending is being stretched.

“To ensure fairness, Ministers have closed a loophole so that from April 2013, business jet passengers will also have to pay this tax.

“The reduction in the deficit, combined with the low interest rates this Government has secured, means that the UK is saving £36 billion in debt interest payments compared to our predecessors.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

In other words, the four paragraphs of any substance comprised (a) a plain admission that APD is a revenue raising measure, oblivious to the collateral damage it causes (b) a plea for credit for not doing wrong (via another increase) just yet (c) the citation of a loophole closure that has no impact on the burden of the average leisure traveller (d) a sweeping general plea for credit for deficit reduction. No recognition of the underlying iniquity of APD. And not a word of response to my specific issues.

I suppose I should at least be thankful that I was not reminded that we’re all in this together.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Robert Goddard's Harry Barnett: Quite A Character

It will hopefully not be too long before my second novel is published, a legal and political suspense titled Sackcloth, Ashes & Penance, when some of the main characters from Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt will feature once more.

I am reminded of how Robert Goddard, one of my all time favourite authors, made such a success of a lead character in two follow ups. When Harry Barnett – “a middle aged failure, leading a shabby existence in the shadow of a past disgrace” - first saw the light of day in Into The Blue, his eventual triumph over the rotten hand that fate appeared to have dealt him was masterful in his own right. Then came Out Of The Sun and his discovery of David, the son he never knew he had, and the battle against the conspiracy and cover up surrounding David’s purported suicide attempt. And in Never Go Back, just when Harry might have deserved an uneventful retirement in Canada, he finds himself persuaded into joining an RAF reunion in Scotland with a hidden agenda. Quite a major one. Overall, a highly enjoyable (if perhaps accidental) trilogy where it is entirely natural to appreciate Harry's underlying virtues.

So when my follow up novel emerges, will any of my own recurring characters be seen to have taken inspiration from Harry Barnett’s endearing ability to survive all of the predicaments that descend so undeservingly upon him? Perhaps indirectly. Let’s just say for now that it’s not always necessary or desirable to take things lying down, or choose a quiet life, or draw a line and move on.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

What's the Difference between a Donkey and an Ass?

“One’s a trade union leader, the other’s a member of the cabinet”, according to the Two Ronnies’ Mastermind sketch where Charlie Smithers’ specialist subject is answering the question before last each time. A good answer, albeit one that would be lost on someone unfamiliar with British comedy of the seventies.

More accurate in the USA, of course, would be “one’s an animal, the other’s a part of the human anatomy”. And the fact that we say “arse” in the UK can give rise to many an amusing mental picture when hearing the transatlantic usage. Take the Nickelback song “Rockstar” and its lyric “I’m gonna dress my ass/In the latest fashion”. We could just imagine the drummer muttering “You spoil that donkey”. Or the comment of Capt Dan Hubbard of the Third Infantry Division just before the overthrow of Saddam: “We are going to exploit the situation, cross the river and barbecue his ass." Well, the troops probably would have been hungry by the time they reached the main square in Baghdad, but would they really have wanted a celebratory feast of spit roasted donkey?

Some more examples came to the fore in an excellent American legal thriller I have just finished. “His records have been carefully drafted to cover his own ass” – written on an equestrian blanket, perhaps? “X would get his ass chewed…probably worried that Y would kick his ass” – fear of animal cruelty, fortunately balanced with the kindness of “get your cute ass in there…more like I saved your ass.”

Which all goes to remind me of the passage in my follow up to Hatred Ridicule & Contempt, still a work in progress but hopefully to be published soon, when a central character reacts in succinct but derogatory fashion to what authorities often invoke to justify cover ups. Am I going to leave his exact comment as “Data protection my arse”? You bet your ass!