Petrol, Pasties and George Galloway

Certainly this week has been a classic point on how not to manage a crisis. Thank goodness nothing important is going on…

The pensioners are complaining about the changes in the budget, but I wonder if that’s out of the serious concern to the change of their benefits or just because they’re being stoked up by some articles in certain newspapers and magazines. As previously discussed on this blog, nothing is happening to existing pensioners, and by the time the changes in pensioners’ personal allowance takes place, the general personal allowance would have caught up to match.

Then there’s petrol. The recommendation that now may not be the best time to let your petrol tank get nearly empty before filling up has turned into a message of “Fill up now before we’re out of petrol!”. The moral of the story is that when something people take for granted is threatened, any message will be construed into one of panic.

The other, unexpected, political hot potato this week is actually a hot pasty. Amazing how such a small change can cause much upset. Inconsistency and double standards irritate, especially when it causes politicians into long rambling speech declaring his love for large pasties from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. The idea that the VAT rate will depend on the ambient air temperature will cause horrendous accounting nightmares – does that mean tills need to be fitted with thermometers so they know whether VAT needs to be applied or not? As an accountant who does VAT calculations regularly, this idea fills me with dread.

What I can’t believe is that with all the bean-counters and clever bods down at HM Treasury, no-one anticipated these problems. How did something like this sneak into the Budget report without the implementation of these issues not fully considered. Not even a definition of what is considered “ambient temperature”. It’s almost as if the plan stopped once the calculations of how much tax could be raised were finalised. The issue of how the policy should actually be implemented doesn’t seem to have been thought out. The same thing happened when the VAT rate was changed to 15% a couple of years ago, when the costs of re-programming tills and re-printing price labels hadn’t been factored into the calculations of how the change could benefit the economy.

With all of this political drama, it seems no surprise that George Galloway, the former Labour MP, subsequent Celebrity Big Brother, anti-war campaigner and founder of the Respect party, has won the by-election in Bradford West to re-enter the House of Commons. Such an enigmatic character, and such a contrast to the MPs for all the major parties, his campaign was less on economy and jobs and more on war and being a different kind of MP. It’s no wonder so many people seem to have fallen for his charm and decided to elect him as their MP.

Many will argue this is a support for his celebrity status and doesn’t reflect a change in attitudes in modern politics. I rather suspect it’s an indictment, a sign of loss of faith by young people.  A sign that, for many, politicians have lost touch. In a week when advice to store petrol has been criticised by the fire brigade, pasty and granny taxes have caused consternation in The Sun (among others), and the other parties fighting the same issues, it’s no wonder that when a genuinely different voice comes along, people decide to vote them in.

We’re lucky in this country that the non-mainstream parties gaining success at the moment are parties like the Greens and the Respect party, and not those like the BNP. The question that the main parties have to answer: will George Galloway’s success be replicated in the upcoming local elections in May?

Ultimately, could pasties and petrol come to symbolise the state of modern politics?

As they say, a week is a long time in politics. A lot of politicians probably wish this is a week that could be done a lot differently.

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