Before every Budget, George Osborne always seeks the advice of various MPs. He usually doesn’t heed it but it’s a good way, he thinks, to keep the troops happy. As the economic headwinds have strengthened, this advice has tended to be increasingly radical and in a recent meeting with the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, the Chancellor made clear he was in no mood for it. ‘Look,’ he told them, ‘I tried radicalism in last year’s Budget, and I had blowback for it.
From a horrific Victorian murder to its role as a royal refuge from Nazi invasion, Newby Hall has known enough genuine drama to make a primetime telly series. And in fact the more you find out about Newby, the more strikingly similar it is to TV’s actual stately star: Downton Abbey. It’s almost spooky. Not only was Newby Hall the seat of the genuine Lord Grantham — his portrait still hangs on the wall — but he left it to a daughter called Lady Mary (just like the series).
The call centre problem — I’ve solved it. I now know how to get good service. The secret is to keep ringing back until you get a rude operative. Because, in this world at least, rude is the new polite.
Admittedly it only works for technical help-lines, rather than call centres in general. But boy does it work. ‘Boy’ being the operative word — we’re talking here about the generation of young males who spent their teenage lives locked in bedrooms playing Call of Duty.
Glasgow University Union is in the headlines again. The story at first sight appears typical of the petty campus rows to which undergraduates attach passionate importance but which bore the rest of the world. On closer consideration, it encompasses issues of free speech and political control that are of genuine concern.
At the recently held final round of the Glasgow University Union (GUU) Ancients debating competition, involving the older-established British universities, two female speakers complained of being heckled and booed during their speeches and of being subjected to sexist abuse.
In they stride, in muddy trainers or wellies, swirls of cold air caught on their clothes, children in off-road buggies, dogs bedraggledly in tow. I’ve always been thrilled that so many of our customers at Daunt Books in Belsize Park and Hampstead come in fresh from Hampstead Heath.
Growing up in north London, I’ve spent many an hour walking on this scrubby land, as wild as London will get. Every November I march a group of friends across the Heath for an ‘annual birthday stomp’; in the summer I swim in the icy ponds and laze in the hot grass afterwards.
[audioplayer src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_07032013.m4a" title="Peter Hitchens vs Damian Thompson on whether addiction exists" startat=39]
[/audioplayer]The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received ‘an inconvenient truth’ from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change (I’m not that ecologically switched on). She told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
As if to demonstrate that every silver lining has a grey cloud, next month’s top-rate tax cut also means there will be less help in future from HM Revenue and Customs to boost high earners’ retirement funds. So there are just a few weeks left in which people fortunate enough to be able to write a cheque for up to £200,000 can get £100,000 of it back, risk-free, from the kindly taxman.
Such eye-stretching figures demonstrate why it really can be worth the bother of getting to grips with tax planning ahead of the 5 April fiscal year-end.
You know you’re in a bull market when bad news is simply shrugged aside and even the most indifferent events are greeted exuberantly. The result of February’s Italian general election, which drags the future of the eurozone back into question, would have induced market panic had it come nine months ago. But the world’s equity markets barely blinked before resuming an attempt to breach all-time peaks.
The long period of dormancy for Britain’s housing market looks as if it is coming to an end — though there are huge regional differences.
Central London remains exceptional, with the influx of overseas buyers into Kensington, Chelsea and adjoining neighbourhoods creating a microclimate of surging prices that has little to do with economic fundamentals — and has the political left salivating at the thought of a ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth £2 million-plus, even if that means turfing elderly widows out of family homes.