Monthly Archives: May 2010

“I have zero concept of how I’m assessed in the world.”

Caitlin Moran is spread over The Times as though she is that newspaper’s version of a Page 3 girl: the thinking man’s temptress. But at least she’s funny. And much, much more articulate than most Page 3 girls. Her interview with Lady Gaga in today’s Times is gut wrenchingly hilarious, if only for the introduction where she uses 500 words to tell us about missing a flight –

“It’s not so much that I am now almost certainly going to be fired. Since I found out how much the model Sophie Anderton used to earn as a high class call girl, my commitment to continuing as a writer at The Times has been touch and go anyway, to be honest.”

Later in the interview, part of which is conducted in a sex club in Berlin, Lady Gaga tells Moran that she has “zero concept of how I’m assessed in the world.” My left eyebrow travelled upwards slightly upon reading this statement. But not quite as far upwards as when I read, “Perhaps uniquely among all the journalists in the world, I can now factually confirm that Lady Gaga does not have a penis. That rumour can, conclusively die.” My neighbours thought I was having a fit in the back garden by this point.

However, I don’t mean to get caught in a discussion, or otherwise, of Lady Gaga’s lack of appendage. More, I got to wondering about how some of us mere mortals get caught in being so worried about what the world thinks of us that we are paralysed by our own fears, when someone of Lady Gaga’s worldwide fame couldn’t give a blinkers. Perhaps it is what marks her and other (actual, as opposed to reality TV) celebrities out for their success. And not just celebrities in the movie/music/politics worlds. I mean even ‘celebrities’ within their own sectors and industry – business, journalism, academia, teaching, nursing. Or, more simply, successful people.

Myself included, I know far too many people who stop themselves from doing something because they’re afraid of what someone with whom they have no connection, or at the most a passing sense of acknowledgment, think of them or what they’re doing or what they’re wearing. I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I’ve managed to write one or two short pieces that I’ve always liked, but that I’ve shared with a total of two people. My sense of worry of how my writing will be judged has been worth more than my desire to do something that I think I might be good at. In virtually every other sphere of my life I (mostly) fight the urge to worry about others’ thoughts and opinions on my actions, my dress sense, my dancing, my likes and dislikes. In my professional career, I am paid to challenge convention, yet on one of my biggest ambitions and desires, I’ve been held back for too long by what my head thought others would think.

Nor am I the only one. I can look to the example of many of my peers and see the same sense of paralysis. These thoughts were also prompted by the delightful example of Johnny B. Truant. Sometimes this paralysis is all consuming, preventing the forming of basic social relationships and sometimes it is more subtle and, as in my own case of writing, or one or two others that I can think of, it stops us from doing something that we at least feel we would be good at because the perceived thoughts of others amount to more than our own sense of self-worth. The kicker in all of this – those perceived thoughts are just that. In all honestly no one really cares about us, at least no one beyond our tightest circle of friends and our family. And everyone else? Well they are simply too concerned with what we think of them to be worried about what they think of us.   

My point, thanks to Caitlin Moran and Lady Gaga, is that no one ever got to the pinnacle of anything by worrying about what others thought of them. So, I’m taking a leaf out of the Lady’s book – if you don’t like what I write, that’s your problem. Just don’t read it. More importantly, the central point of this posting is simply a plea to stop worrying about what that guy/girl who you sometimes see at the coffee shop or in the library or in the bar thinks of what you’re doing. He/she probably doesn’t even notice.


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Filed under Ambition, Behaviour, Entertainment

Enough with the Corporation Tax argument…

The continuing (long-running) saga of reducing Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland has a particular knack of shoving me close to the edge of the cliff. I have a series of problems with the arguments in favour of reducing corporation tax, the biggest of which is the fact that the argument is being made at all.

The argument has been made for a reduction in corporation tax in Northern Ireland to 12.5% (the same as that in the Republic) for a few years now. So many years, in fact, that we’ve even had a time for an inquiry into the matter. Which said that the UK government wouldn’t do it. Cue a wail of horror from Northern Ireland’s politicians. This leads me to my second problem, but more on that later…

The rationale against any cut in corporation tax in Northern Ireland is simple. It’s illegal. Under EU law, no member country can reduce taxation in a certain area of the state without it being deemed state aid. Either the change is made across the whole jurisdiction, or it’s not made at all. The legality of this has been tested in the European Court of Justice (thanks to the Portugese government) with reference to the Azores. To be certain of the situation, I read the opinion of the ECJ myself. Now, I’m no lawyer, but it is very clear that reducing corporation tax in the Azores was deemed illegal because “The settled practice of the Commission … consists of classifying as aid tax schemes applicable in particular regions or territories which are favourable in comparison to the general scheme of a Member State …” In other words, the tax scheme in the Azores, which would have allowed for lower rates of income and corporation tax than those in the Portugese mainland, would have been favourable in comparison to the rates in the rest of Portugal, producing an unfair advantage deemed as state aid.

Stay with me. The ruling also highlighted that the European Commission might have ruled that the proposed system for the Azores was legal, if the rules applied to firms operating outside the financial sector, but it didn’t even find this because “the reduced rates of income and corporation tax are not justified by their contribution to regional development and their level is not proportional to the handicaps they are intended to alleviate.” In other words, the system went beyond just alleviating a supposed handicap inherent in the peripherality of the region and produced an unfair advantage to the Azores over the rest of Portugal.

The UK government added its weight to the argument in support of the Portugese government, largely saying that if the court found in favour of the Commission on the basis that tax rates had to be equal across the whole of a member state, then this called into question the possibility of devolving fiscal autonomy to particular regions, as well as the whole concept of devolution. Or, simply, no UK government would ever be able to offer Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland the possibility of tax raising powers within their own legislative jurisdictions. For good measure, Spain supported the UK and Portugese arguments before the Court with reference to the issue of devolution.

The ruling of the ECJ is clear on this matter – lawyer or no lawyer. It outlines three scenarios where the issue of state aid might arise in reference to taxation policy, one of them being that if a regional or local authority “in the exercise of sufficiently autonomous powers” adopts a different tax rate from the national power. The ruling goes on to say that to be sufficiently autonomous “that decision must, first of all, have been taken by a regional or local authority which has, from a constitutional point of view, a political and administrative status separate from that of the central government. Next, it must have been adopted without the central government being able to directly intervene as regards its content. Finally, the financial consequences of a reduction of the national tax rate for undertakings in the region must not be offset by aid or subsidies from other regions or central government.” [Italics are my own emphasis]. To further augment this point, the ruling continues, that to satisfy EU law on political and fiscal independence from central government, not only must the regional authority have “powers in the territory within its competence to adopt measures reducing the tax rate..but that in addition it assumes the political and financial consequences of such a measure.” [Again, my italics].

The sticking point in the entire argument is that given their insularity and peripherial status, the Azores suffer from structural disadvantage from the rest of Portugal. So, it is incumbent, based on Portugese law, for the Portugese government and the autonomous authority in the Azores, to correct these structural imbalances whilst ensuring appropriate levels of public services. So, like Northern Ireland, the Azores benefits from a direct transfer of money from central government to ensure the delivery of appropriate levels of public services, meaning that any reduction in money to the Azores from a reduction of corporation tax would be offset by an increase in the direct transfer of money, resulting in an unfair advantage for the Azores…

My difficulty with the situation in Northern Ireland, with our local politicians and many senior business leaders calling for the government to cut corporation tax is based on a lack of leadership. It’s been deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice, so why even make the argument in the first place? Secondly, I’ve seen arguments made by the DUP (though I may have been dreaming) that to offset the loss of revenue from reducing corporation tax, the block grant (amount of money given by London to Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff) could be increased before being reduced. I say good luck to the DUP in trying to make that argument to Westminster. I also believe that the issue is more about what is being done to promote entrepreneurial talent from within Northern Ireland than seeking to base any growth on foreign investment. This is where leadership is sorely lacking.

Essentially, I take the view that our local politicians continue to make the argument about cutting corporation tax to extract further monetary concessions out of London, safe in the knowledge that if neither comes they can continue to wail that the politicians in Westminster took their dummy away. With the new Prime Minister visiting Belfast today, inevitably attention was focused on the corporation tax issue. Cleverly, the new coalition agreement, also published today, has a clever little mechanism to allow London off the hook altogether, and, to potentially hand the decision making power over to local politicians in Northern Ireland. The agreement simply states that the government in London “will work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics, including producing a government paper examining potential mechanisms for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland.” That mechanism, I predict, will be the transfer of tax raising powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. And given that politicians in Northern Ireland have abdicated fiscal responsibility (re water charges) in favour of populism, I doubt very much that they are willing to assume the political and financial consequences of actually having to forgo a considerable chunk of money…

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Filed under Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Politics, UK Politics

And so it begins…

Shouting loudly seldom works. Unless you’re on a mountain top, stressed to the hilt, and trying to release a barrel full of pent up rage. In every day situations, though, it rarely works. Yet, I am constantly amazed at how many people genuinely think that the louder they shout the better it is – for them, in terms of getting things done, and for the world, in terms of their opinion is always right.

I shout. At the TV. Or the newspaper. Quite often I’ll shout at the computer screen or my telephone – it’s a fancy smartphone, but doesn’t appear to be very smart when it freezes repeatedly, rendering it useless to me on the occasions when I actually need to make a phone call. So, yes, I shout, but I also recognise (I hope) that rational thought, good manners, patience, understanding and an ability to listen, mean that you get a whole lot more done than by shouting.

This blog is a shift from me shouting at the TV/newspaper/magazine/computer/telephone when the only people who can hear are me, my housemate and anyone else in close quarters, to my desire to engage in rational discourse, and offer my thoughts to a bigger audience. I have a history of debating, and experience of public affairs, so I like my opinions. And I like sharing my opinions. I don’t believe that they’re always right. But I do like to share them. The actual prompt for starting this was signing up to Twitter (I’m a late bloomer) and gaining access to so many new sources of information, opinion, debate and just stuff that interests me. I wanted to be able to expand on some of them with my own thoughts. Those opinions range from looking at what we want our cities to be, to arm-chair strategising the next political breakthrough in Northern Ireland – with a bit of photography, architecture and design thrown in for good measure. Not exactly Renaissance Man, but not exactly orthodox either.

Most importantly, and my motivation for so many of my own interests, is the notion that different ideas lead to different outcomes. My own belief is that, too often, we remain unthinking about the status quo, so I’ll often take a contrary position to “perceived wisdom.” More importantly, I also believe that we get overwhelmed by what we think it will take to change things. In reality, bit by bit, little by little, is what changes the world. No revolution happens overnight nor is it the result of one person. It’s about determination, collaboration and a recognition that we can all do our bit. This is part of my bit to change a small portion of events, so that, in Bobby Kennedy’s words, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

And, so, it begins…

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