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Friday 27 April 2012

The Pasty Tax and 'Silly Politics'

With the Pasty Tax Protest in Falmouth this Sunday I thought I would say a few things about the whole pasty tax thing.

First of all, I feel that I should point out that I own a fish & chips business.

I mention this because fish & chips have been used as a justification for taxing pasties by some of the media and politicians that support the idea of tax on Cornish pasties. The argument is that if fish & chips are vatable then why shouldn't pasties be? Indeed the National Federation of Fish Fryers (NFFF) is arguing that pasties and the like should be taxed the same as fish and chips.

I own a fish and chip shop and I am against the tax.

I am against it for several reasons.

First of all when I sell fish and chips I cook the food and then keep it hot for customers. I am providing a hot food service for my customers. If they come to my shop they know that their fish and chips will be hot. In additon to an obvious commercial reason for serving my food hot I have a legal, food saftey duty of care to keep it at a temperature that keeps it safe.

Fresh bakery products are different. They are produced and displayed with no attempt to keep them hot. Once a pasty has gone cold, and passed the time that it is safe to eat, it will be discarded as waste. The two systems may seem the same to uninformed politicians, who see things in simplistic terms, but they are, in fact, two very different modes of production. If (as happens a lot outside Cornwall) pasties are cooked by a food outlet and then kept warm then this is a different scenario and this type of sale will already be subject to VAT.

The question that George Osborne is really posing is whether Pasties should be seen as a luxury type food rather than a staple food. Sometimes, if I am lucky I can go to a supermarket or bakery and buy bread that is still warm because it is fresh out of the oven. Is George Osbourne saying that VAT should be charged on bread? Pasties, when baked and sold fresh, should be treated as a staple food - like bread. If they are kept warm then they become the same as any other 'luxury' take away food.

My second reason for being against the pasty tax is that I would find it very hypocritical if I wasn't. Not from a Cornish nationalist point of view but from a fish & chip point of view. To explain this I need to debunk another myth that politicians (especially UKIP types) use to justify the tax. The argument is that we are having to tax pasties because European regulations require us to do so. Well I don't thik this is true. The reason that I don't think this is true is this. For years the NFFF have been campaigning that VAT should not be applied to fish and chips. If I have understood correctly, the main basis of this campaign is that in other European countries fish and chip 'type' operations are not subject to VAT and so we in Britain should have a level playing field. This is why I find it hypocritical for fish and chip shops that would gladly support a campaign to take themselves outside VAT regulations then call for VAT on pasties.

My third reason is a very slefish business reason. Living in Cornwall, I know, and understand, that a pasty is a staple food - my fish and chips are not. If pasties cost more then my customers are more likely to cut back on luxuries (my fish and chips) in order to continue to enjoy their pasties. For me, as well as pasty producers, VAT on pasties will be bad for business.

Finally, and most importantly, Cornish pasties are an extremely important part of the Cornish economy and identity. A tax on Cornish pasties will amount to an indirect attack on our culture and a direct attack on our economy. It is exactly this lack of knowledge, understanding and caring about Cornwall that is demonstrated time after time by Westminster politicians and which we allow to continue by voting for London-centric political parties.

My final point leads me to the silly 'silly politics' quote from Anrew George recently. Dick Cole pointed out that Liberal Democrats in Cornwall were out of step with their masters in London almost continously. He suggested that, as they were so often campaigning for things that weren't their party's official policy, they should do the right thing and resign from the Liberal Democrat party. Andrew George said that this was silly politics and that the pasty tax was not a resigning issue.

The question for Lib Dem politicians is what is a resigning issue? We have already seen them campaign against tuition fees, NHS cuts, imposition of a rise in VAT, the Cornwall/Devon parliamentary constituency and now the pasty tax. However much Lib Dems make a lot of noise in Cornwall and give the impression that they are campaigning on behalf of the people of Cornwall, still they get nowhere. Indeed, most of the time, seemingly in order to further their career, they quietly skulk through the Westminster lobby and vote for the thing that they have been campaigning against in Cornwall. It will be interesting to see if this happens again over the pasty tax.

Mr George, I don't think MK were indulging in silly politics but simply asking you to to try some principled politics.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Why we need a Cornish Assembly

We are not too poor

People often say to me that a Cornish Assembly would never be viable.

They ask "How much would it cost?" or say "We could never afford an Assembly of our own."

Often, I feel, these sentiments are expressed because of a deep-seated acceptance of the Thatcherite ideology - 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but how much will it cost?"'. Whenever a propsal is made that might benefit society the default question is "How much will it cost?" rather than "How do we make it work?"

This outlook sems to have become the norm over the past thirty years or so. Thirty years that have been spent selling off the fruit of our parents' post-war struggle to build communities that cared about the future. Instead, we have worshipped at the altar of self-gratification, putting short term profit ahead of long term social development.

The only winners in this world of greed are the people who control wealth and power. We are conned into buying into the idea that if we support the money making institutions then we might just get a better slice of the pie than our neighbour.

This is the backdrop against which we are taught to question what will be the cost.

When it comes to a Cornish Assembly, "How much will it cost?" really is the wrong question. The truth is that there would be no additional cost to the people of Cornwall for a Cornish Assembly.

We pay taxes to Westminster and we receive services in return. The problem is that all too often the services we receive do not equal what we have paid for them. There are countless examples of how centralised, London-centric government spends money to develop the economy of London and the South East at our expense.

Not only do we have 'London weighting' (which actually means that London's economy is subsidised by the rest of the UK) but we will shortly have 'regional pay' which will further exacerbate the difference between  the haves and have nots. In addition to this basic unfairness, Cornwall receives less per person for educating her children, for caring for her sick and for developing her economy.

Mebyon Kernow has demanded a review of the under-funding of Cornwall. We believe that Cornwall deserves better and that we should get more of own taxes returned to us.

But this is not the point. There would be no additional cost in creating a Cornish Assembly because, even if we had just the same money available to the Assembly as Westminster spends on Cornwall now, then the people of Cornwall and Cornish institutions and businesses could do so much more with it than Westminster does now. So the question is not "How much will it cost?" but "How do we do better with what we have?"

How a budget for an Assembly was finalised would be a matter of negotiation, exploration and calculation - but it wouldn't cost any more. The real difference would be how it was spent.

Cornwall's GDP is similar to some less well off Eastern European countries. We are poor compared to people upcountry. This is why Cornwall has once again qualified for aid from the EU. However, the fact that we will be receiving this funding should not be a matter for celebration because it is recognition of the failure of Westminster to develop our economy. If, as a result of Westminster mismanagement, we are in need of handouts from Europe how can anyone claim that we need Westminster to keep us afloat. It isn't a matter of if we can afford to manage our own economy - more a matter of can we afford not to?

We are not too small

Once people have told me that Cornwall is too poor I am quite often told that we are too small.

Once again this is nonsense that is drummed into us by Unionist politicians. There are numerous examples of small European nations that manage themselves quite nicely - but of course these are never mentioned.

Indeed, in this world of global economics and global economic problems there is growing evidence that the smaller economies can fair better. This is because smaller economies can be more agile. Smaller economies can specialise and take advantage of niche markets. Smaller economies can search for a solution to a problem and implement it much more quickly than the bigger economies which are more like oil tankers and need plenty of space and time to change direction.

Take Iceland for example. The population of Iceland is just under 320,000 - a lot less than Cornwall. At the start of the global financial crisis Iceland made the news because, like everywhere else, their state banks collapsed because of gross mismanagement and absurd risk taking. The people of iceland were pilloried because they refused to take on the debt of the greedy bankers. Instead they allowed the banks to fail and even went on to prosecute the bankers and politicians that hey believed had behaved illegally as well as immorally. A few years on the Icelandic economy is back on track while the UK plunges into recession once more. It's funny that we never seem to hear much about Iceland's success story - but then perhaps it doesn't fit with the Westminster scheme of things.

We are not too stupid

Of course it would be impossible for us to have our own Assembly - we wouldn't have a clue how to run it! What a ridiculous statement. Apart from the glaringly obvious fact that it is London based political 'experts' have made a complete mess of things, this statement typifies the lack of self-confidence which is continuously inculcated  in us by those very same people that have made that mess.

Cornwall has a history of innovation and people who look to try new things and build for the future. We need to have more confidence that our generation could could do the same and more. It wouldn't be difficult. It would only take the knowledge that living locally, and understanding the way that Cornwall works, to begin putting right the harm that the remote, London based political parties have done and are doing now.

It is regularly pointed out to me that if we had an Assembly then we would probably still end up with the same parties anyway. Well, even if this turned out to be true, those politicians wouldn't be able to hide behind the screen of Westminster. The Tories and the Lib Dems wouldn't be able to talk in terms of putting Cornwall first and then, hypocritically, blame Westminster when their local policies were at odds with their masters in Westminster. In Scotland and. increasingly now, in Wales Unionist politicians have been forced into attempting to create a facade of putting their national interests first, before those of their Westminster bosses. It isn't working. As the charade is played out the people in those countries are becoming aware of the falsehoods and incongruities that Westminster spins and in time the lies are exposed and the politicians that are truly working for their countries first and foremost are elected.

A Cornish Assembly Now

Members of Mebyon kernow need to get out there and create the vision of how Cornwall would be best served with its own Assembly. We need to demonstrate that the only way to stop the madness of  a minimum of 48,000 houses is to regain control of our planning system. We need to illustrate that our people can be better cared for when our health system is able attract the best people for the job rather than have our best people exported to the South East. We need to show that our schools can give our children the education that they need and that Cornwall needs them to have, if we let our teachers teach rather than have them going through bureaucratic hoops imposed by a centralised UK government.

We are not too poor, small or stupid. Cornwall needs its own Assembly now - it can't afford anything less.