One reason for the lack of posts this week has been a trip to Merrie Englande (or rather distinctly un-merry Britain). On my Sleazyjet flight to Luton I had a lovely view of the fire - joke: "Police have admitted today that George Best was not in fact buried in Belfast last week and that in retrospect the decision to cremate him in Hemel Hempstead on Sunday morning may have been a mistake." - and then had the pleasure of being stuck in a horrible traffic jam as I tried to drive to my hotel. I also managed to trigger one of the bloody speed cameras on the A12 which didn't exactly help my mood but I found it very interesting to hear the conversations of people around me when I wasn't driving.
It is true that I didn't exactly go and visit the slums and/or run down council estates but a selection of pubs across the south of England were patronised as were service stations, hotels and the wonderful Luton Airport departure lounge. One thing I noted was a considerable amount of "pissed off"ness concerning the provision of government services. People seem to feel that they are being taxed to death and reaping very little in terms of results. From British Rail to the NHS to Schools, not to mention obvious things like Law and Order, there seemed to be a lot of cyncism about the results of all the increased ZANU labour spending - more red tape and bureaucracy no more actual useful service. Moreover I heard a lot of people, including people that I wouldn't normally expect to behave like this, talk about how they were looking at ways to avoid the taxman in his various guises. While Capital Gains, Stamp Duty and Inheritance tax seemed to provoke the most wrath - sample "Its insane, I can't leave the council house I bought from Maggie [Thatcher] to my children without them paying a shedload of tax" - I also heard people discussing payment in kind and/or brown envelopes under the table for things other than the traditional building trades.
If taxes are high enough that people are looking at ways to avoid them on routine transactions (and on the verbal evidence they are) then they must be high enough that they are putting a brake on economic growth. It seems to me that the Chancellors attempts to block every legal loophole (see the Easyjetsetter's post) for tax reduction has finally resulted in a combination of unwillingness to spend or make changes along with, where spending is required, active searches for legally dubious ways of paying, because giving a huge chunk of the transaction to HMG is not appreciated. I also noted very little sympathy for the EU and particularly for French farmers. If southern England was asked to vote in a referendum about agicultural subsidies I suspect that even the farmers would vote to scrap the lot and scrap the red tape that accompanies them so long as that resulted in lower VAT and/or food prices. I had an earful in a pub in Somerset from a farmer who found himself doing things that seemed irrational but which gave him (once he ticked the right boxes) more EU subsidy and protected his sacred Milk Quota.
Furthermore, there is, it seems to me, a point beyond which English people are unwilling to toerlate bureaucratic meddling and I suspect that ZANU labour is just about to reach that point if they haven't already got there. I brought up ID cards to two totally different people and neither of them was keen on them for any reason and even less keen on being forced to pay for them. One of them said "it will be Blair's poll tax" which, if true, is heartening for those of us who want regime change because Blair & co seem determined to introduce the things.
During my driving I had plenty of time to listen to Radio 4 and, apart from the usual anti-Americanism (e.g. the "Platitude for the day" speaker repeating the James Watt libel), I heard all sorts of views that were surprising, incuding criticism of Labour policies. From people on the various Financial/Consumer advice programs critcising the SIPP decision to others complaining about the supineness of Blair & co with respect to our EU "colleagues" the BBC seemed to be giving plenty of air time to government critics and rather less time to government spokespeople - indeed in at least one case (SIPPs) the BBC presenter clearly stated "we asked the treasury for a response and they declined" in precisely the same sort of sneering tone that they use to refer to conmen who prefer not to be interviewed by journalists who might ask embarassing questions.
Unfortunately we have a long time until the next election, so there is plenty of time for ZANU labour to spin things again, but on the other hand there is also plenty of time for the UK economy to go splat thanks to Gordon Brown's Tax and Tax Again policies. I suspect (and fear) that 2009 will resemble 1979.
PS WRT to the BBC and the EU - the have your say comments about the UK rebate are strongly weighted against Europe when it comes to the most recommended comments