ON ONE level of the oven, the upper-crust Chancellor getting a pasty pasting is just enjoyable political knockabout. But the U-turn, or semi U-turn, on the so-called “pasty tax” may be the moment this government starts to be seen as being accident-prone and lacking in basic horse sense rather than suffering a couple of blips.
Originally, George Osborne planned to charge the 20 per cent rate of VAT on all hot baked snacks such as pies and pasties.
But following the outcry alleging that it showed a government out of touch with the workaday concerns and pressures of ordinary people, this has now been changed so that the VAT will not apply to hot takeaway food that is cooling down after being cooked; only to cooked snacks being kept warm. Hopefully that’s clear.
However, at a deeper level the turning over on hot snacks looks the latest in a series of government moves that have misfired, and more importantly, could have been reasonably seen as likely to misfire in advance.
The granny tax, dressed up as a fake tax streamlining, showed a cloth ear to the squeezed Middle Britain mood music, and new VAT rules on restoring old churches and tax changes on large charitable donations also indicated a government that doesn’t see things like the wider electorate sees them.
The government has also partly retreated on the plan to levy VAT on static holiday caravans. Then there was Prime Minister David Cameron’s risible public insistence that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was not deeply compromised in his quasi-judicial role of judging News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, after the latter’s strong support for the Murdoch empire and its takeover ambitions expressed shortly before he was handed the responsibility.
Meanwhile, the PM has patronised a female MP by telling her in the chamber to “calm down, dear” while losing his rag at the “muttering idiot” Ed Balls on the Labour benches.
Not one of the above policy issues or verbal outbursts is a nuclear one for this Tory government with added Lib-Dem. But the tipping point for political realities often starts with public perceptions.
Recent missteps suggest the coalition could come to be seen as being suspect on economics in its adherence to unmitigated austerity, casually cackhanded on micro revenue-raising, compromised by its Murdoch links, and off-puttingly supercilious towards opposition – all at the same time. That would be electorally dangerous.
It would be over-the-top to say Cameron and Osborne have lost their grip at the business end of the coalition, while the coded Punch and Judy show with the Lib-Dems at the other end bores voters.
But there is much evidence to suggest any honeymoon period with the public is over and that the out-of-touch allegations carry weight.
What’s good for the USA is good for Wolseley
PLUMBING and building supplies giant Wolseley is always a good barometer of the North American economy, with about half its sales and 60 per cent of its profits Stateside. And, just as has been evidenced by a swathe of US data in the past year, Wolseley’s third-quarter sales suggest that the recovery across the Atlantic has gained traction compared with the flat performance in the recessionary UK and eurozone.
Wolseley’s sales in France plunged more than 6 per cent, fell 1.7 per cent in the Nordic countries and by 0.4 per cent in its home UK market, the latter representing about 15 per cent of the company’s sales.
Contrast this with a bumper 9 per cent jump in like-for-like revenues in the United States and an 8 per cent rise in Canada.
This stark contrast in transatlantic performance by one of Britain’s biggest industrial companies is not totally due to differing economic backdrops.
There are also specific factors. The exceptionally cold, rainy spring we have had on this side of the Atlantic has depressed sales as it has hit the construction sector, a key driver for Wolseley’s products.
On the plus side, Wolseley is benefiting from the buoyant state of the Canadian oil, gas and mining sectors. There was a bit of a stock market sell‑off in the shares yesterday on European market conditions, but the company still looks one of the better plays due to North America clearly mitigating the downside.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West