WHO READS THE UK PRESS?

National newspapers in the UK tend to have a predictable readership, which has changed little over the years.

If you’re a fan of ‘Yes, Minister’, you’ll be familiar with this.  But in case you’re too young – or too old to remember.

From  Series 2, episode 4 –  A Conflict of Interest (1987)

 

Jim Hacker (Cabinet Minister in charge of Administrative Affairs): “Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:

The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;

The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;

The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country;

The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;

The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;

The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;

And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

Sir Humphrey (Permanent Secretary): “Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?”

Bernard (Principal Private Secretary): “Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.”

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CHANCER OF THE EXCHEQUER

Gideon’s in a bit of a quandary. He wants to axe the 50% tax rate imposed on the 300,000 highest paid people in the UK by the last Government when he delivers his budget next week.  He fears the vast majority of voters will be displeased if he does and that the Opposition will be very cross indeed.  They may call him a ‘Tory Boy’ and accuse him of helping his old school chums, already rich, get richer.

Gideon has also grown fond of telling those old school chums that he’s the  ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’.  He doesn’t want to lose the title or the powers it bestows come the next election.  So Gideon is wondering if, perhaps, an interim rate of 45% might work?

Too much political policy-making is electioneering dressed up as decisions made in the best interests or the country or the economy.  Gideon wants to axe a tax that has achieved little except pander to the upset and ballot paper-carrying majority.  But he is worrying about how to message its death and how such a slaughter will be perceived.

I should start by declaring an interest but I don’t and have never agreed with the 50% tax rate for two key reasons.

My first issue is the inherent implication that anyone earning more than £150k must be, in some way, responsible for the state we’re in.  Some of the highest earners in the country are absolutely responsible, and include bankers, lawyers and CEOs.  Most, however, are not.

The cabinet ministers who singularly failed to keep the UK economy in balance during the boom? HM Opposition, who failed to keep a proper check on the Government?  They are directly responsible.  However, they earn less than £150k and are therefore exempt.

Secondly, the argument goes, the highest paid need to make higher contributions to ease life for the lower paid.  The thing is, they already do.  That’s how pay as you earn works – the more you earn, the more you pay.

In fact, the 1% highest earners in the UK contribute 30% of the country’s income tax receipts. Their disproportionate contribution to the public coffers goes wider than this – the highest paid typically spend more, including on private school fees and private medical insurance, neither of which attract taxable concessions.

Executives will always find ways to avoid higher tax rates.  They will pay more into their pension funds to avoid tax, or exchange salary for dividend-paying shares that attract only 20% capital gains tax.

Some readers may object to this post.  That’s OK, but the truth is I’ve never met a highly paid person who didn’t work harder than their peers, sacrifice more family time than their peers and weren’t more talented or smarter than their peers.  Very few who get and keep the highest paid jobs are lazy or incompetent.  To ask them to compensate others disproportionately is wrong.  It might curry favour among the electorate, but it’s unfair.

Among the ranks that have disagreed, sometimes aggressively, with my point of view on this topic include some that have never worked because they’re happy on benefits and a few tradesmen who work as often as they can for cash in hand.  For those reasons, I consider neither to have a valid vote in this particular debate.

As a teenager, Gideon feared this birth name lacked the strength or credibility to one day help him become Prime Minister, so he changed his name to “George” Osborne.

The country now, more than any time in living memory, needs a chancellor with the moral courage and insight to make the right decisions without hedging or fudging in the interests of future re-election.

What he or she is called is significantly less important.

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FIRST CLASS ABUSE

I don’t often find myself aboard a Southeastern commuter train on its way London at just gone midday.  Three things were different between this and my usual rush hour commute: it was bright outside; the train was almost empty; and the average age of the payload was considerably older.

The ticket inspector, or ‘revenue protection officer’ as I believe they prefer to be addressed these days, sat down next to me to take payment from two ladies who had boarded earlier at an unmanned station.

“What was that kerfuffle all about,” asked one.  “Oh, someone sitting in first class without a first class ticket and they couldn’t pay the penalty so I threw them off the train. It was quicker than calling the police and causing everyone else a delay,” the inspector replied.

I had seen and heard what happened.  He looked about fourteen years old. Yes, he was being daft and had given her some lip when she challenged him but that’s what teenagers do.  So she threw him off at the next (unmanned) station with a 60 minute wait until the next train and saved herself some paperwork, no doubt.

I was annoyed, but accept that rules is rules, so I did what I could – I pointed out that the only thing that made the seats first class is the sign above them and that in every other regard, the seats are exactly the same as the others on the train.  I went on to explain that I’m familiar with first class travel, both on intercity trains and intercontinental flights and that theirs defy any meaningful description of first class. It hardly merited the extra cost (£28.80 vs £16.50) on that particular service.

She explained that first class tickets on the Southeastern railway are for customers that want a guaranteed seat on the train. I wasn’t aware of this before but only those that pay for a first class ticket (or pregnant women) are guaranteed a seat.

I asked, therefore, why it wasn’t called ‘a guaranteed seat ticket’ rather than a ‘first class ticket’ when the service was patently not first class. She wouldn’t admit it but I already knew the answer.

Language should describe and clarify, not confuse and obfuscate meaning.  Language us abused on a daily basis so that businesses can make decisions that, if they explained them honestly, would be embarrassing at best.  Terms in common use today include ‘right-sizing, ‘margin management, ‘best in class’, ‘centre of excellence’, ‘strategic review’ and ‘customer experience’.

The communications department should be the guardians of corporate language, not creators or purveyors of corporate bullshit.  A good guide for any business that genuinely appreciates their customers is to not make decisions that, when explained in simple black and white, would make the CEO blush.  If you work in the Comms Dept at Southeastern and you’re reading this, it’s time you had an honest discussion with yourself.

This might not make the business first class, but it would make it more honest and transparent, and that’s a good start.

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