Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, May 20, 2008

IT’S probably fair to say that when Paul Murphy entered politics his inspiration was not Marie Antoinette.
But when a politician tells people they’ll have to make do with sub-inflation pay rises while all about them prices are shooting skyward, it does rather smack of comments the ill-fated queen made about the starving masses eating cake.
The common refrain of Government ministers these days from Gordon Brown down is that they ‘feel our pain’, or as Mr Murphy put it, “People in Wales are feeling the squeeze.”
Yes, They’re feeling about as uncomfortable as a Labour MP in a marginal seat I would say.
However, Mr Murphy had few comforting words for those facing debt, foreclosure and poverty – aka feeling the squeeze. No instead he warned any of them in the public sector that they shouldn’t expect any help from their employers – ie him.
No, Mr Murphy, whose salary as a Cabinet Minister could be as much as £138,000, warned that inflation busting pay increases were not the answer to our woes.
To his credit, he and other MPs, have accepted a below-inflation 1.9% pay rise this year. The uncharitable among you might point out that someone trousering £138,000 a year can afford to take a below-inflation rise once in a while without feeling the squeeze too much, but remember, Paul feels your pain.
It is statements like Mr Murphy’s that make me think that there are a few people at the very top of New Labour who really do not quite comprehend what is going to happen when they summon up the courage to call an election (that is of course, assuming that they do summon up said courage and don’t cling on by their bitten fingernails until the final day possible)
Electricity bills are up, gas bills likewise, food bills are rocketing and you have to get a move on when you’re filling your car with petrol for fear of the price going up while you’re pumping it in.
At the same time our AMs, those who have taken it, have enjoyed a very healthy, inflation-busting 8.3% pay rise which took their annual salary from £46,804 to £50,692. That’s just over twice the average Welsh wage of £24,544 a year. A wage which, incidentally, even before the credit cruch was not enough to buy an average-priced house in Wales. There are plenty of people here who will be welcoming a collapse in house prices.
But wage inflation, says Mr Murphy, is not the answer, that fuels inflation and they’re not going to take us back to the bad old days of the ‘80s and ‘90s when it was out of control.
Yes, dumping cash into an economy will have an inflationary effect, he’s quite right. Odd then that his government have sat back and watched the housing market dump huge amounts of cash into the economy as people cashed in their equity in recent years.
But then house price inflation was giving everyone a rosy glow about the government wasn’t it? All of a sudden people were taking equity out of their homes to buy stuff to fill those homes with; to buy second homes and to fund expensive foreign holidays, And to have interfered with it would have been an unwarranted meddling in the free market which has served us so well, up until now.
It was a bubble that had to burst, and so it has with predictions of a ‘correction’ in house prices by as much as 30%. So if you’ve just bought a house for £200,000, it might soon be worth £140,000. Try remortgaging that.
That is the sort of pain Mr Murphy and his fellow Cabinet members feel with us, insulated though they may be from it all by generous allowances that fund and furnish their constituency homes.
But Mr Murphy’s faith in the electors not to punish his government for their failings is touching. “At a general election people look at the policies and they will see that the Conservative promises do not add up,” he said.
Nice try Mr Murphy, but you’re fooling no-one. No, Mr Murphy, at a general election people who are feeling the squeeze will look at the contents of their bank account and vote accordingly.

I CAN reveal that the Oasis Hotel’s pink makeover and their orders to tone it down are nothing new.
You will remember that the Oasis was touched up in pink, but it was too vibrant a shade and the owners have been instructed to redo it.
Charlie Roberts, former painter of this parish, writes in to tell me of a similar incident back in 1966.
“Back in 1966 working as a painter for a local firm we had the job of painting The Washington Hotel on the prom, also in Llandudno, a deep cream, as I recall.
“We finished the job on the Friday, but on the following Sunday, Lord Mostyn, who was sailing in the bay as commodore of the yacht club, turned to his chief henchman, George Hillier, and said ‘What is that monstrous colour on that hotel George?’
“When he was told it was a sort of cream he said tell them to change it immediately. So we went back on Monday and done it again!”
“So Mr Banks, nothing has changed in 40 years. Bloated capitalists or what?”
“Yours faithfully, Charlie”
From the dates Mr Roberts has given, this is the previous Lord Mostyn, the fifth Baron, Mr Roberts refers to, not the present Lord Mostyn
You’re right Mr Roberts and the French have a saying for it – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But then, the French also guillotined the class of people who might presume to tell them what colour to paint their hotels.

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