Timmy Elsewhere

At the GI.

Globalisation, trade restrictions and the rice trade. Since I wrote that but before it was published EU Referendum has had an interesting post about it. Why was Japan buying rice it had no intention of using?

Behind this is a tale which verges on the surreal, going back to the early eighties (and perhaps before) when the United States was getting extremely concerned at its balance of trade deficit with Japan. By the late eighties, this had become politically highly contentious and had focused around reciprocal deals on the sale of US rice to Japan, as a way of compensating for the inflow of manufactured Japanese goods.

To cut a very long story short, in 1995, Japan eventually caved in to huge pressure and, under the aegis of the WTO "Uruguay Round", agreed to accept from the US some 770,000 tons of rice a year, by-passing its protective tariffs set at 490 percent, which had kept the Japanese market closed to imports.

However, there was a slight problem. Japan was is self-sufficient in rice and there was no domestic market for US imports which, in any case were a different variety and regarded as inferior by Japanese consumers. Despite continued efforts of US growers to make their product more acceptable, only small quantities of the imported rice was used – and then only for manufacturing – or allowed to rot. The one thing Japan was not allowed to do was re-export the product.

I was aware of the basic reasoning, but not the details there.

Rather goes to show the insanity of trade deals really: can\’t we simply declare unilateral free trade and get on with things?

Replacing Viagra

Umm, so how does this work then?

The pill, which is being developed by the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences unit in Edinburgh, uses a hormone to release the chemical Type 2 gonadtropin, which drives the reproductive system.

It is expected to outperform Viagra because it will increase the brain’s desire for sex, wheras Viagra only boosts the body’s sexual capability.

OK, yes.

Lack of libido affects more than a third of women and one sixth of men.

Right, got it. It makes those who currently aren\’t all that interested, interested. Fine.

Professor Robert Miller, part of the research team, said the drug would replace Viagra.

Erm, no, that bit of it I don\’t get. Viagra works in people who have the desire but not the physical capability (diabetes, heart or vascular problems etc). So how does a drug that increases the desire help those who already have that but not the ability?

Someone\’s rather talking up their new product, aren\’t they?

Polly\’s Predictions

Although to give the Ol\’ Gal her dues, this was pretty prescient:

Politics is a cruel trade, as no doubt Cherie\’s forthcoming and much-to-be-dreaded autobiography will reveal. If, after the sheer vileness of Alastair Campbell\’s diaries, Cherie\’s book mirrors her sublimely un-self aware farewell film with Fiona Bruce, then fear the worst – it will all be served with revenge and no apology for her ample share in the money fixation that destroyed Blair\’s reputation.

Re-Reading Polly

I\’m going through old Polly columns (Factchecking Pollyanna and I are doing an analysis of them) and this one from last automn really needs to be read again in the light of more recent events:

It\’s Boris! His selection as Tory candidate for mayor of London was inevitable – though only 0.3% of the electorate voted. Between now and next May, he risks becoming David Cameron\’s nightmare shadow, a buffoonish parody of the Conservative leader: same generation, same school, same kind of charm – but all done in pantomime. Desperately seeking gravitas, this is a new woe Cameron could do without as his troubled Conservatives gather in Blackpool this weekend.

At 11 points behind in the polls after Labour\’s triumphal display of unity, how much worse can things get? Lord Tebbit, the party\’s deathless Sauron, shot a deadly pre-conference bolt at Cameron with effusive praise for Gordon Brown – "I think he is a very clever man and I have very considerable regard for him" – while damning his own leader: "I think we lack somebody of the standing of Margaret." What caustic acid he poured on the Eton phalanx: "What a lot of people will suggest is that they don\’t know how the other half lives … they have no experience of the world whatsoever."

What should David Cameron do now? Ask around the Conservative party and you can hear the advice raining down on him. Turn right! Turn left! But don\’t flip-flop, be strong. Go back to the gut issues the people care about. Have policies, have none.

It\’s only a short time since he was riding high in the dog days of Tony Blair. Remember how this time last year Labour\’s post-putsch conference felt like a party on the brink of implosion. Now his own party is riven between trads and mods.

Tee Hee.

Bravo, Bravo!

Now here\’s a truly inventive use of the Channel Islands and no, it\’s got nothing at all to do with tax.

The loophole allows ITV programmes to be registered for compliance purposes with a tiny franchise, Channel Television, based in Jersey and Guernsey.

About 40% of ITV shows – mostly made by independent production companies – are vetted in the Channel Islands to ensure that they do not breach broadcasting guidelines.

It means that Ofcom can levy fines against these programmes based on only the modest advertising revenue of Channel Television, rather than the £1.5 billion earned last year by ITV plc, which owns 11 of the 15 ITV regional franchises.

Very well done indeed to whichever lawyer thought that one up!

My, My, How Convenient

Some of Tony Blair’s expenses claims, which the High Court last week ruled should be disclosed to the public, have been shredded. The documents, itemising Blair’s claims for household expenses during a year of his premiership, were destroyed in the midst of a legal battle over whether they should be published. All MPs’ expenses are funded by taxpayers.

It is a criminal offence to destroy documents to prevent their disclosure under freedom of information (FOI) laws, but Westminster officials say they were unaware that the files were the subject of a legal challenge. They insist they were destroyed by mistake.

Just stunningly convenient, don\’t you think?

Anybody else remember Rose Mary Wood?


Yes, Again

Mary Warnock:

If we agree that abortion after 22 weeks must now be regarded as infanticide, then the answer must be \’yes\’. It must be in the public interest to prevent the killing of babies. A society which permitted it would simply be inhumane and uncivilised, not a society in which we would choose to live. After all, we are often told that the civilisation of a society is to be judged by how well it cares for its most vulnerable members and few could be more vulnerable than premature babies. But of course, if the law is changed, they will not be premature babies. Are we then to think of these 23- and 24-week-old foetuses, now to be left in utero, their lives preserved, as vulnerable members of society?


We ought to pay less attention to the destruction of life by abortion than to the quality of life of those who are allowed to live.


I think the part of the second quote that revolts me is "allowed to live". If we have accepted the first part* then "allow" is entirely the wrong word. For we do not "allow" humans beings to live, we defend their right to do so. To fail in that truly would "be inhumane and uncivilised, not a society in which we would choose to live."


*Yes, it does of course all depend upon the acceptance of that first part, when is a human a human?

The Compact

This isn\’t so much written down as it\’s part of the assumed compact between ourselves as individuals and The State.

One in three young people living in cities thinks it is acceptable to carry a knife in self-defence because violence is so rife, according to research revealed today. Teenagers and twenty-somethings have lost faith in politicians, the police or schools to protect them and increasingly believe they need to be armed to defend themselves against people of their own age. Nearly half said they knew someone who had been a victim of knife crime.

We allocate to it a monopoly of legal violence and in return it protects us from said violence. After the defense from violence from those outside said State, it\’s the most fundamental part of the bargain we make.

And if the State doesn\’t keep its side of that bargain, then do we have to keep our side, by continuing to rely upon its protection, or are we righteous in arranging for our own?


Another farmer who had been waiting to bring his own case to court was Tom Maidment of Wiltshire. Thirty-one of his cows were condemned by Defra after blood testing had shown them as positive, and he pleaded in vain with London to have them skin-tested.

When his local Animal Health Office, unaware of London\’s refusal, ordered that skin tests be carried out, not a single animal showed any sign of TB. Defra\’s response was that the cows must all nevertheless be destroyed. Who gives a fig for science when someone else is footing the bill – and the courts are there to support you?

How did this happen?

Why are we ruled by morons?

So Much for Security Vetting

An MI5 agent has resigned after his prostitute wife engineered the tabloid sting that exposed Max Mosley, the head of motor racing, for taking part in a sado-masochistic orgy.

So the story goes they married last year. Doesn\’t bode well for the state of the security service\’s vetting of its own employees now, does it?

Don\’t forget that the Government wants to change the law so that you can be locked up in jail on the unsupported and uncorroborated say so of these people for 42 days. A pleasant thought, is it not?

Interesting Numbers

Department of Health figures uncovered by this newspaper show that during 2006 more than 3,800 women underwent at least their fourth abortion, including more than 1,300 who were on their fifth or more. Of more than 60,000 women who underwent a "repeat" abortion, almost 15,000 were on their third.

These included 65 women who had their sixth abortion by the age of 30, and 82 girls aged under 18 who had already experienced three, and more than 50 women who had had eight abortions or more.

Dr Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said: "This is just so grotesquely bleak." He said the situation was "approaching the sorts of things we used to hear about Soviet Russia. "When you try to imagine a woman who has had eight abortions, or perhaps more, it is absolutely clear that she is using it as a form of contraception."

He may indeed be on one highly vocal side of the debate, but he has a point, doesn\’t he?


“Seeing the fuel gauge barely move when you put in £20 is frustrating and only going to get worse." Er, David, you don\’t actually put a £20 note in the tank, you give that to the attendant when you\’ve finished putting petrol in.

Good Luck Boyos!

I\’ve not dog in this fight but good luck to these two at least:

Whatever the outcome, all but one of the 25,000 Cardiff City fans at Wembley know that this is the match of a lifetime. David Morgan was in the crowd 81 years ago, the last time Cardiff won the Cup. He is hoping that seeing the Bluebirds lift the FA Cup will be a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. In 1927 his father paid only two shillings each for their tickets, 10p in today’s money. Today his seat cost £95, but he says it will be worth it.

Few will be praying for Cardiff City to win harder than Mike Price, a Carmarthen postman. This year he staked £25 on Wales to win the Grand Slam at 28-1 and Cardiff City to win the Cup Final at 80-1 and stands to win £58,750.

Yes, The Guardian Did Libel Tesco\’s

Or at least, they now admit that they did. Worth reading this in full.

The Guardian yesterday made a formal offer of amends to the supermarket chain Tesco over reports which had claimed that the company had set up an elaborate complex of offshore companies to avoid paying up to £1bn of corporation tax on a series of property deals. But the newspaper made it clear that it would strenuously defend a malicious falsehood claim by the company.

The libel admission, which follows a correction and an apology published in the edition of May 3, came in defence papers filed to the high court in response to an action started by Tesco last month.

So they really did cock it up entirely. No, there were no corporation tax issues, there wasn\’t £1 billion at stake, the "6 month investigation" was seemingly run by rank amateurs who simply did not understand the world in which they were operating.

The defence says Tesco continues to avoid stamp duty land tax (SDLT) – a 4% mandatory levy on property deals, usually paid by the buyer but in common practice split between seller and purchaser.

The defence papers claim that Tesco\’s "ethical stance" in terms of tax avoidance "is in fact … a sham".

They add: "The defence that such avoidance is not uncommon is bankrupt ethically, and the more so for a company that claims the reputation and corporate standards set out in [its legal action]."

The newspaper also accused Tesco of a "false smear" for accusing the Guardian of hypocrisy. The retailer had claimed that the paper\’s parent company, GMG, had used an SDLT-avoidance scheme while suggesting that its own arrangements only amounted to "savings".

"The hypocrisy is entirely that of Tesco," say the defence papers. "This smear on the Guardian was false and must have known to be false by Tesco."

But from what we know GMG did indeed set up exactly the same sort of SDLT avoidance scheme (please note that this is legal) to do with their part takeover of EMAP. So calling this a false smear seems a little odd. A smear, yes, but not false. As to the ethics, well, it\’s very difficult to point the finger while doing the same oneself. We usually refer to that as hypocrisy.

But the papers say Tesco ignored several important questions posed before publication – including direct questions about SDLT. They add that the company\’s failure to deal openly with its SDLT avoidance contributed to the Guardian journalists\’ belief that corporation tax avoidance was behind the artificial structures set up by Tesco.

"Tesco is not and was not open and frank about its position on tax avoidance, and indeed cyncially seeks and has actively sought to conceal it in its public statements."

Umm, that\’s more a comment on the financial literacy (or not) of those you sent off to look at the schemes rather than anything Tesco did, isn\’t it?

But let us look at this matter of ethics for a moment. Let us take the point of view that The Guardian is putting forward, essentially the Richard Murphy line. Tax avoidance, (as they describe it) the artifical manouevering to reduce your tax bill, is unethical to the point that it should be made illegal. Certainly it is not something which an ethical company should do itself and it is right to call out and shame those who do it.

I\’ve not misrepresented their views there I think, have I?

So let us look at the Scott Trust, the owners of Guardian Media Group and thus of The Guardian itself.

The Trust was established in 1936 by John Scott, owner of the Manchester Guardian (as it then was) and the Manchester Evening News. After the deaths in quick succession of his father C. P. Scott and brother Edward, and consequent death duties, John Scott wished to prevent future death duties forcing the closure or sale of the newspapers, and to protect the liberal editorial line of the Guardian from interference by future proprietors.

The Trust was dissolved and reformed in 1948, as it was thought that the Trust, under the terms of the original Trust Deed, had become liable to tax due to changes in the law. At this time John Scott also gave up his exclusive right to appoint trustees; the trustees would henceforth appoint new members themselves. Five months after the signing of the new Trust Deed, John Scott died. After three years of legal argument, the Inland Revenue gave up its claim for death duty.

The entire organisation was set up to avoid (legally, of course) taxation due under the law of the land at the time.

The current chair of the Trust is Liz Forgan, a former Director of Programmes at Channel 4 and Managing Director of BBC Radio. She was appointed in November 2003 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Hugo Young. Other trustees include the current Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, Larry Elliott, Will Hutton, Anne Lapping, Paul Myners, Geraldine Proudler, Sir Derek Higgs, and one member of the Scott family.

Forgan is the sixth chair of the trust; her predecessors were John Scott (193648), A. P. Wadsworth (1948-56), Richard Scott (1956-84), Alistair Hetherington (1984-89), and Hugo Young (19902003).

And it looks very much like one effect of it was to perpetuate the familial influence upon the organisation.

Now I have no problems with people legally structuring their affairs so as to reduce their tax bill. It\’s one of those things that court rulings have insisted is a natural right.

But apparently The Guardian does have problems with such, thinking that those who indulge in such practices should be named and shamed.

Very well, if that is their position then perhaps they\’d like to cough up 60 years of inheritance tax before they line up their next target?

Or are we to conclude that hypocrisy is thy name, O Guardian?


Look, If Paris Won\’t Take It

How about Athens? Or Sydney?

Designs for the London 2012 Olympic aquatic centre broke its original budget of £73m more than three years before games organisers admitted that the true cost had tripled to £242m.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) admitted last night that proposals for the venue were over budget as far back as January 2005, shortly after Sebastian Coe and Tessa Jowell submitted London\’s bid to the International Olympic Committee with a promise it would cost just £73m at 2004 prices, rising to £117.5m by 2012.

Last month the ODA admitted the costs had soared to £242m, with an additional £61m required for a footbridge that will form part of the building\’s roof.

The admission that the government was aware of the cost pressures on the flagship building before London was selected to host the 2012 games came after the Guardian learned that the original selection panel choosing a design for the pool complex knew in 2004 that the submitted schemes, including Zaha Hadid\’s winning proposal, would break the budget.

They knew and they lied.

The discovery that costs on the aquatic centre have been rising is likely to add weight to accusations that the original bid-book budget for the games was set artificially low in order to receive political and public support. Last month the chairman of the influential public accounts committee, Edward Leigh, accused Jowell, the Olympics minister, of misleading parliament and the public over the original budget, a charge she denies.

Deny it all you like dearie, that does seem to be what happened, doesn\’t it?