Tuesday 28 April 2009

El Gordo: a better bet than El Gordon?

Like Alistair Darling, I took a very gloomy look at my finances last week. This led me to the depressing conclusion that the only way to make the sums add up was a major gambling coup.

I was duly talking to Mrs Hann about our chances on El Gordo for a full five minutes before she grasped that I was discussing the famously rich Spanish lottery, rather than our beleaguered Prime Minister.

This is indicative of a reality gap almost as yawning as that between the Chancellor’s assumptions and generally accepted probabilities. The notion that I am obsessed with Mr Brown is simply not borne out by the facts. For the record, I have mentioned him in precisely four columns this year, an average of one per month. Given that he has just presided over the biggest financial train crash in British history (a veritable Quintinshill of economic catastrophes, for those of you who are connoisseurs of railway accidents) I stand astonished at my self-restraint.

This Government has racked up more debt than the cumulative total managed by every previous British administration in the 315 years since the Bank of England was founded. Or, to put it another way, the combined efforts of New Labour and the Fred Goodwin school of banking have cost the British taxpayer more than Louis XIV, George Washington, Napoleon, the mad Mahdi, Kruger, the Kaiser, Hitler and Hirohito put together.

This is a truly mind-boggling mess. Every child born this year will be saddled with some £17,000 of British Government debt. A sum that will take until 2032 to pay off, even on the Treasury’s forecasts, which are almost universally acknowledged to be ludicrously optimistic.

Clearly I do not have the answer to this. Nor, I suspect, does David Cameron or even Barack Obama (both politicians from the Blair school of attractively packaged vacuity). I also have no personal axe to grind, as according to two respected firms of accountants the people who have done best out of the Budget are the very old with very young children, and I am about to sneak into that category. True, for maximum benefit I apparently also need to be paying myself lots of money from a loss-making company, own a farm in Bulgaria and a 10-year-old car, and be looking to retrain as an environmental engineer, but it is clearly a first step in the right direction.

The only personal downside I can see is that any slim chance I might have had of selling my house has been knocked on the head by the withdrawal of tax relief for properties used as holiday lets, which is about to flood the rural market with no longer affordable second homes.

Naturally, other wheezes will soon be found to shelter the incomes and assets of the better off from Messrs Brown and Darling. Because we can be sure that the one British industry to receive an absolutely massive boost last week was that of tax avoidance. The rich will always believe that they have a better idea how to spend the stuff than those jokers in Whitehall. On the evidence to date, who can doubt that they are right?

I promise not to mention this again, but as long ago as March 2007 I wrote of Mr Brown “It is hard to see such a famously shy, disorganised, irascible, indecisive and undiplomatic man as a happy or effective Prime Minister.” Would it be so wrong to add “I told you so”?

Now let us move on, in my case to an online flutter on El Gordo. Perhaps, I admit, combined with a bet on El Gordon pulling off a surprise election victory in 2010. With the odds currently on offer, it should generate a tidy and curiously tax-free sum to cushion the pain if the worst should happen.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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