Have you caught election fever yet? By the end of the week we’ll know the make-up of our local councils, but, wait for it, the prospect of a further election on 23rd May – for new MEPs for the European Parliament is gaining a sense of inevitability. Truly mad given that we voted to Leave the EU nearly three years ago, but then little is normal about politics at the moment. I’ll have no difficulty in supporting our Conservative candidates, with the South East regional list headed up by the outstanding and sensible Eurosceptic Dan Hannan. MEPs rarely achieve name recognition, but Dan does and he deserves support. European Parliamentary elections have always been used as a ‘free hit’ by the electorate and I doubt this one (if it happens) will be any different; just be careful what you wish for.
Parliament returned last week after the shortened Easter recess. It all feels fairly bland on the corridors of Westminster with the usual game-playing by the usual actors. The opposition parties have a regular opportunity, via opposition day debates, typically each Wednesday, to debate a motion of their choice. It seems likely they will be airing support for the country to declare a ‘climate change emergency’ on the back of a few thousand activists who brought parts of London to a halt. But let’s not let the facts stand in the way of gesture politics. The UK has done more than any other G7 nation in reducing CO2 and changing our energy mix towards renewables while many developing nations plan exponential rises in cheap energy production, with King coal at the heart of that strategy. Activists would be given short shrift by campaigning in Beijing but hey-ho, facts and politics rarely meet in any sensible way.
The issue of tobacco taxation was highlighted by the recent conviction of some former local employees of a specialist waste burning facility at Discovery Park, Sandwich. I visited the place a couple of years ago. The facility had a contract with Border Force to dispose of illicit tobacco but the temptation for easy money proved too great for some who thought they’d found a way of getting tobacco destined for incineration out of the facility to sell on, to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of pounds. This goes to the heart of the debate about tobacco taxation, with the UK having some of the highest rates in the world. Obviously the tax pie has to be carved out of somewhere; the UK has decided that tobacco tax collects both high revenues and deters smoking as a health dividend. If only life and behaviour were that simple or one-dimensional. We have created a huge underground market for illicit cigarettes: ‘proper’ ones that are tax paid in the country of origin (often Eastern European countries with lower tax rates) or true counterfeits which have been made heaven knows where out of heaven knows what. Is our policy creating a huge dividend for foreign exchequers, and huge amounts of underground cash for the dealers which can finance even more subversive and dangerous activity? A huge subject, but I think we’ve squeezed the tax take too far, creating entirely foreseeable and adverse consequences.
This role offers creates some bizarre interactions. As a Chartered Accountant I maintain contact with my professional Institutes. The South East region’s dinner, held at the Turner Contemporary had Germaine Greer (amazingly now aged 80) as the guest speaker and I had quite a chat with her. She still manages to entertain, shock and offer thought-provoking perspectives. A Conservative Brexiteer agreeing with (some) of what Germaine Greer has to say – whatever next?