Friday, 29 May 2009

Let's All Do The 'Flip'?

It is great to see free advice for anyone who has a second home in Britain being given on the BBC website - this time by an accountant named Sharon Bedford.

She points out that the 'Time to sell' rule allows the perfect foil for flipping which has been the domain of MPs like Hazel Blears and Geoff Hoon. Hazel Blears famously announced whilst in leathers outside her main residence, or was it her second home, or third - well one of her homes - that she had behaved within the rules of the House Commons and the 'Rules of the Inland Revenue'. Within a week she was seen grinning like and over eager actress in a Daz advert holding up a stainless garment that was a cheque for the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on the sale of her second home - which he had told the taxman was her main residence.

Now, if Sharon Bedford's advice in her article is right, then our little Hazel had a clear conscience and need not have paid back the tax. But if she is wrong, then the little devil was quick to bury the evidence - sadly she did it on TV and in front of millions. It was like a jewel thief replacing their stolen goods with their mask off on 'Richard and Judy'.

'Flip Again, Like You Did Last Week'

So goes the new song in the corridors of Westminster. According to Tax 'Mitigation' Expert, Ms. Bedford, if you have a second home anywhere, all that you have to do is to send a letter to the taxman, say, the week before you want to sell your dry rot ridden chalet in Southampton and declare it as your main residence, sell it the next week and so pocket the gain in value tax free, then a week later write to tell the taxman to change it back to the place where you actually live with your family.

It is that simple and the taxman is that stupid. You see, under a rule called 'Time to Sell', the moment you change your status of your second home to the main residence, the taxman assumes you have lived there for the past 3 years which is counted as time to sell. Even if you have been renting the place out. According to Ms. Bedford.

In the case of Ms. Blears, when she bought one of her residences in London, she has a two year period to declare whether that place will be her main residence. By deciding for the taxman that their main home is still their residence, i.e. the one in Salford where she can be seen grinning in her leathers like a 'Hell's Granny', she can sell the new bijou flat in London any time in the next 2 years and pocket the profit as long as the day before the sale she writes to the taxman and tells him it has suddenly become her second home - the 3 year count back applies to save any CGT.

Meanwhile, under parliamentary rules, little Hazel sniggers profusely and does precisely the opposite. The moment she buys the flat she can either declare it her second home and claim full second home allowance in whatever way she can and then 'flip' whenever she wishes to pay for things in Salford.

Jaqui Smith famously declared a bedroom in her sister's house as a main residence in London so that she could claim for everything, including her husband's porn, in the real main home but in Parliament's eyes her second home. Tony McNulty, who is now paying back £3,000, was even more cynical. He declared his parent's house in Greater London as his main residence and his flat in London as his second home. Incredibly, he thought that was legal and within the rules - how wrong he was.

In The Real World

In reality, second homes under real Tax Law is more complex. In reality you have to 'prove' that you have lived at an address which is designated at any time, your main home. So, if, as Sharon Bedford suggests, that you flip your residences at the last second and the 3 year count back assumes you have lived there but you only bought the flat two years earlier but have rented it out - there are two conflicting things going on. This is the only case I can think of when a person can 'legitimately' get away with this.

But there are issues for the rest of us. Firstly, you need to declare to the taxman any earnings from rent over and above the mortgage value in any second home. Secondly, for mortgage purposes, the property is assumed as 'buy to let' which signals to the taxman your intent. Thirdly, by flipping a buy to let property, I do not think the count back rule applies but it is worth checking. What it does mean, is that you have to have extensive knowledge of the system in order to avoid it - which is where people like Sharon Bedford come in.

For Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon and all the gang who 'flipped' to make money, you have to have a clear view of the two sets of rules in play in order to profit. There is no accidental way you can make money. So when dear Hazel paid back the cheque, she publicly declared she had defrauded the taxman. The others hide behind the shroud of mystery that is the system they exploited for gain.

I still believe, despite what Sharon Bedford suggests, that the taxman is not stupid. One thing I do know, is that the taxman does like to made to look stupid in the real world. It is a travesty that all MP expenses have not been scrutinised but I suppose it's a question of where do you start.

Flipping is where I would start. In all cases, it is a deliberate and well advised method of avoiding paying large sums of tax. It is a flagrant misuse of public money for personal profit. It is a crime even if that is a moral crime. Saying it is either the system or the rules are to blame is no excuse, that just shows moral bankruptcy and such a person has no place in positions of power or trust.

Gordon Brown says Hazel Blears has done a good job. I think she is rotten to the core and I suggest she will get voted out at the next election. If Brown had half an ounce of intelligence, he would be reading the growing anger in the public as a clear indication that if he leaves people like Blears, Hoon, McNulty, and Smith in place at the next election, those will be seats he will lose.

Denial can be a powerful tool in politics - it can also be your downfall.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Barcelona Win - At Least MPs Are Out of the Headlines

I am sure many will be sorry to see Manchester United beaten tonight. In fairness, I think even the most rabid supporter would agree that Barcelona were by some distance the better of the two teams tonight, although it would be fair to suggest that United played nowhere near their best. Still, credit where it's due.

Sadly, the monotonous drip of revelations about MP expenses are here to detract our disappointment. Latest to exploit the system is 'Sir' John Butterfill, Tory big man. Like diminutive and scheming Hazel Blears, he used the fact that the Parliamentary system is independent of the the tax system to claim that his tiny flat in London was his main residence for purposes of creaming the tax payer for outrageous amounts for his valuable Bournemouth 'second' home and then cynically, knowingly and fraudulently claiming that the home he had designated his secondary one was his primary residence when he sold it, so netting himself a 'CGT' tax free £600,000.

Under current rulings, the systems are independent so theoretically what he did was allowable. In practice, it was not. This was a blatant, well researched scam to make a lot of money, tax free, at the expense of taxpayers. While it may not overtly breach law, it was unquestionably illegal gain.

Butterfill claims he put £500,000 into the home so his profit was only £100,000 - but he forgets that is only the same principle to which all of us have to adhere. The taxman cares not one jot on how much you put in, that was your risk. Again, it is an example of fat cats trying to make up their own rules to benefit themselves. If only we all had the same rules.

In this case, if the law does not take an interest, the taxpayer should. If we have been funding the mortgage and upkeep on what we thought was his second home but turned out to be his primary one, then we are owed at least all the mortgage payments back and in reality we should have the entire profit he made.

I am sure MPs will guffaw at such a suggestion but it really is time we took control of the situation. We have sat back and watched an elite group of people who we granted a mandate to milk us. If the law and the taxman have no jurisdiction, then we do. It's our money.

I am fed up of listening to preening big heads who claim they have done nothing wrong or that the claims office passed it - I am fed up of the police remaining on the sidelines - I am fed up of the taxman chasing the rest of us and not the fat cats. It really is time we all reacted. It is our money and we do not want people to profit from it where we can't like 'flipping' residences, we do not want to pay for the PM's cleaning, we don't want to pay for Cameron's wisteria thinning, Hogg's moat, Viggers's duck house, Steen's gardening, Blears' scams, Mandelson's profit when he wasn't an MP, Mackay's scheming or bags of dung.

How about this? We each threaten to withhold £10 per month of tax until the MPs who have abused the system in any way are sacked and not allowed to stand for public office again at minimum but are prosecuted where required. Our votes are too cheap to make a difference - as we have seen in the bank bail outs, only money talks and when they don't have it the whole matter becomes a different story.

The fact is that we have the power to stop this right now. We have the power to force every MP who has 'sinned' in our eyes out of office. Regardless of the taxman, the lawmakers and the MPs themselves, ultimately we are the most powerful people in the land because it is our money they waste and we have a say.

It's pointless Esther Rantzen, Simon Heffer, Martin Bell et al standing against these people - it isn't the point anyway. The system failed us completely and it is answerable to us. We don't want new candidates to dip their beaks, we want our money back and the profits people made with it.

It is time we realised that if the law and HMRC fail us then it is beholden upon us to ensure fairness ensues. £10 per month per taxpayer withheld is around £3.6bn a year of tax shortfall. That's a fair proportion of our interest payments on the debts we have 'agreed' to build up to pay for the bank bailouts. Sovereign debt is about to be downgraded, the last thing the Government needs is a further increase in debt to cover the shortfall from us.

Like Simon Heffer, I am being perfectly serious. It is time to vote with our wallets - it's the only language they have been proven to understand.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Is The Telegraph Going Too Far?

Dairy Entry: Day 18. Can't take much more. Running out of will to vote. If only someone had any contrition we might be able to make it a few more days to the MEP Elections. Teddy did a Captain Oates this morning - said he was going out to buy the paper and we haven't seen him since. Oh no, not Darling, Blears and their accounting fees.........

It's all getting a bit much and on Sunday I threw down the paper in disgust at some blatant lies. There was a whole article on St Albans and how the whole town of apparently well educated snooties were up in arms at their local MP in the trough, Anne Main. The horror of the lies was too much to bear for a town not known for its protest.

While I believe the description of the city of having the most pubs per head of capita is true, they somehow described it as being some bastion of the upper class. Having lived there for several years and played rugby at Old Verulamium RFC and witnessed grown men hurling themselves from beams into the arms of waiting drunks, I have also seen men with their ankles tied together and trousers down hopping across the pitch with flaming newspapers up their backsides. Therefore, I think several of us would disagree with the accusations of high intelligence and upper class backgrounds. The Telegraph goes too far.

Now I live within the domain of Watford, our own 'Blair Babe', Claire Ward had become the eyes and ears of the Queen in Parliament and the playmate of a Royal Marine officer in the showers while on a fact finding mission to Bosnia, it is alleged. It appears she got plenty of facts of life that day. She has had her head in the trough too - so you don't need to be in leafy suburbia to find a fiddling MP and a town fully disgusted. And Watford is a hardy place - you have to be with a football side that behaves like a yoyo and has to keep all its nice shops under cover.

Now Blame Accountants

Today's revelations about accounting is a bit silly. It's alleged that several ministers collectively paid around £11,000 for accounting fees to do their tax returns - the sin here is that they used our money for it. As so often the interpretation of UK Tax law by the very MPs who make them up and vote for them are radically different to those upon whom they impose them. Rather like paying for a gardener or a cleaner, paying an accountant to do your return is a personal, lifestyle decision, even if they are complex or simple. There is a hint in here that Alistair Darling, who paid around £1,400 over two years for his accounting fees, was using the accountant to get advice on how to 'minimise' tax. It sounds daft being as he is the Chancellor who actually is in charge of of the whole shebang but there you go. The fact is that £1,400 over two years would not buy you much advice but probably an office junior with a calculator just verifying the numbers you have written down. It will not get you a fully indemnified partner helping you squirrel your gardening costs or bags of manure under Parliamentary rules from personal expenditure.

Frankly most accountants are not that crooked and certainly not that cheap.

So I think that we do Darling, Blears, Hoon et al a great disservice. They were intelligent enough to know what they were doing and for the Telegraph to try to blame it on an accountant's advice for less than £1,000 a year is a) hard to believe and b) a gross insult to the fiddling abilities of most MPs.

'We Are All To Blame'

Darling is a pitiful sight at the best of times. As he announces bail out after bail out, his eyes widen in shock as if by broadcasting the numbers he suddenly realises what Gordon Brown and his banking 'advisers' have actually told him what to do and that the numbers are much bigger than the feeble maths books he was brought up on.

So on the Politics Show he did the usual political trick of trying to take some responsibility and blame by sharing it out with everyone else - it's the bank bail out principle all over again, 'We've cocked up, so everyone is to blame and pay for it.'

He asserted that MPs had plenty of chance to vote on expenses reform but 'turned their heads' each time when they had the opportunity. Vince 'Enforcer' Cable was incensed by the comments. Are we talking about the House of Commons where the Government has a whacking majority and votes through whatever it likes regardless of personal opinion? Darling seems to have lived in a dreamworld - Labour Party Whips control the voting, no law gets passed unless Brown says so. Of course, until such time that a final pang of conscience over the plight of Gurkhas slaps him in the face and tells him to get a gram of heart - he, the man who wrote a book on courageous deeds telling courageous warriors to get lost but having opened up our borders over the last 12 years to a few million migrants from all over the place?

If ever there was bunch who needed a reality check, then it is the occupants of the Cabinet.

An Election Needed?

Cameron could be accused of behaving like an over eager virgin wanting his 'first time'. It's all a bit premature.

I apologise in advance about the use of metaphors here, I have just made myself feel queasy seeing 'baby-faced' Cameron and 'School Sneak' Osbourne rutting like stags. But it is a little like that.

We are only at day 18, for heaven's sake, and there 650+ MPs and we are only really looking at second home allowances to date. We haven't got on to the make believe of travel and office expenses in any detail yet. OK, see we have a few more revelations about Derek Conway, but we knew he was an unsporting egg all along, but there are plenty more snippets to keep us going to the real election time and longer.

Here is the problem. We are in danger of exploiting public opinion when only a fraction of the misdemeanours and outright law breakers have been 'outed'. The problem will arise if Hustings start and more revelations hit or, worse still, an MP is voted in and has to resign weeks later. We want the truth up front.

We do need to have a clear out as there is a problem that goes all the way back to selection. You only have to see that Clare Moran's local Labour Party has endorsed her selection again for the next election to know that local parties do not get it either. How can local parties seriously consider people like Steen, MacKay, McBride, Conway etc etc? These people put them in power in the first place, they are hardly good judges of character. In many cases, it seems as long as they have a public school background, a large mansion and snooty accent then they are in. What this whole affair has taught us is that we need a fresh start on democracy because the direct outcome of the decisions we make as voters are the £billions we owe in tax, the credit rating of our sovereign debt, the dead and maimed bodies of our soldiers and the state of Douglas Hogg's moat.

Let's not get all premature. This has to get played out to see how rotten the whole system is. We need also to get to grips with expenses at all levels of Government and Civil Service. I heard Nadine Dorries on the radio bleating about the 'culture of fear' and 'suicidal thoughts' of MPs at Westminster and how they were underpaid which she seems to think should legitimise so many of their activities - it is that lack of capacity to reason that gets me. Any MP gets a minimum salary of £65k which puts them in the top 3% of earners in the UK - then they get a fully paid for 'office', a second home allowance and a virtually limitless travel budget. If that is underpaid then they ought to take their chances in the real world and get paid what they think they are really worth.

No, we need to weed out people like Dorries et al. If you think Politics is underpaid, then simply do not choose it as a career. And why we allow so many MPs to have external interests to supplement their earnings is beyond me.

Finally, I do not think the whole situation has been played out legally yet. The statute which allows MPs a cost up to around £25,000 for accommodation while performing their parliamentary duties is very clear about what can be claimed, no matter what the Green Book says. The blatant abuse of our tax system by the very people who design it has yet to be explored and I am at a loss to know why people have not been investigated. Having just got a tax bill this month, it was a stark reminder of the power of HMRC and if I claimed anything in expenses which was not allowable by HMRC, regardless of my company's policy, I would be at risk to pay it back at minimum and be prosecuted at their discretion alone. Why, there are even whole police forces chasing tax fraudsters.

There are so many flagrant and cynical abuses of the tax system that every one of those MPs should be investigated in full and prosecuted where appropriate, because the taxman will tell you that it doesn't matter if it was a mere bag of manure - fraud is fraud.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Is The Software World Changing?

Some while ago I did my personal review on why Software as a Service (SaaS) was gaining momentum. Since, I have looked at how Microsoft is now taking Cloud Computing seriously and how many big companies are beginning to open up to the benefits of changing the way they provision the enterprise for software.

The Changing World

The recession and credit crunch has taught everyone in business a major lesson - cash is really king. Of course, any wise businessman would have told you that all along but another lesson learnt from this recession is that many people who thought they were super businessmen got a short, sharp and nasty lesson in their own abilities. In that respect, the recession has been a humbling experience.

We have seen major gaffs on a mega-proportion where greed simply leads the way or desperation galvanises action which has terrible consequences. In the US, Bank of America (BoA) took over Merrill Lynch and the crucial negotiations are reputed to have taken less than an hour. Only after the acquisition did the terrible truth about Merrill's CEO, John Thain, come to light and BoA's Board looked like fools as losses were far greater than they were led to have believed and BoA CEO, Ken Lewis, lost his job. In the UK, a perfectly decent business in Lloyds Bank took over HBOS in mixture of greed, to get 28% of the UK mortgages, and desperation as, when the Board suddenly realised what they were taking on, no less than the Prime Minister stepped in at the eleventh hour to make sure the deal went through. In less then a heartbeat both companies sought bail outs and now the taxpayer owns 43% of the combined new group. Understandably, the Chairman, Victor Blank, has lost his job.

But down in reality-land we saw cash sources for business dry up dramatically and bull-headed CEOs and Sales Directors were quick to abdicate their responsibilities to Finance people and cost cutting consultants in an effort to make up for their lack of foresight and planning for the inevitable. Lots of executives will not lose their jobs, in fact, many will gain enhanced reputations for making 'tough decisions' which has resulted in an extra million job losses in the UK - a figure which is expected to rise by the same again in the next year. Only a few weeks ago we saw Steelmaking on Teesside stop as a single consortium pulled their contract which accounted for over 80% of the output - Corus and the Union blamed the customer but it was clear Corus had become fat and happy on the single customer. It was an accident waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, within the detail of costs, people began to question why they were outlaying large capital costs for software each year. True, the benefits theoretically are gained over a long period of time, but the reality was that if you are paying for an upgrade then you should only pay for what you use in terms of features and numbers of user plus the benefits should really be as soon as you flip the switch. Companies as big as Microsoft suddenly saw customers with light bulbs above their heads questioning their ludicrous licencing policy and for the first time in many years, Microsoft sales actually dipped causing around 5% of the workforce to be made redundant.

It was a massive wake up call to the software industry.

The World of Software

Major software purchases within enterprises have usually been treated as a capital purchase and in the accounts they have been amortised over a three year period as the benefits have notionally been gained over that period. This assumes a piece of software behaves much like a large machine. But a machine can be leased and so the capital can be saved and the cost taken as a lease in the overheads - cash is preserved. So what if the same can be done with software.

It would be a nice idea to think we could buy a thundering great software package through a lease but the reality is that once the software is installed it has no residual value in the eyes of leasing companies and so you cannot do this. The key to a lease is that if your company goes bust at least they have an asset. Software is not an asset.

So the concept of 'renting' software has become attractive. By not paying out a huge capital cost and recognising the benefits of using it as an immediate impact to the business by taking the cost to overhead, becomes an attractive proposition. Once again, cash is preserved and the accountants can see exactly what they are getting in terms of a Return on Investment (ROI) from day one.
With that in mind SaaS and Cloud Computing become attractive propositions.

The World of

Long before the days of, I worked at a company called PlaceWare and we sold online webmeeting software on a pay-as-you-go service - WebEx did the same. We had an easy, no cost to deploy model, that customers could try before they buy and then only pay for the numbers of seats they wanted on an annual basis. It worked fine for a non-critical application like webmeetings although we got in the ear when it failed, but what if a major critical application like CRM were to try the same? did just that. It leveraged a relatively low cost sales model of try before you buy, with an easy, low cost deployment and low entry point and again you only paid for what you used on a monthly annuity basis which included all upgrades, support and maintenance. A single monthly line cost which clearly showed the ROI instantly. started by automating Customer Relationship Management (CRM) enabling sales teams to access the most up to date information about their customers instantly and anywhere they had access to the internet. Today, that means pretty much anywhere and so is the crux of many an organisation which helps it run great rafts of daily activities by many departments from sales to marketing to support and link it directly in the ERP and Accounting systems so that a germ of lead can be tracked through the system to forecast to sale to invoice to commission payment. is a true enterprise application, hosted fully outside the network and 'rented' per user, per month.

Now, large scale enterprise applications like HR can be hosted offline the same way. Ex-Peoplesoft executives started a company called with the same principle and many large companies are using it with the single largest ever order for SaaS from Flextronics placed with last year. Former Astra Zeneca HR Technology Director, Mike Sheridan, is a big fan and now advises on the benefits and deployment of such innovative new technology and is a huge believer in the future of applications served in this way.

But it is the changing world of accounting which will drive SaaS to the next level. The technology is merely the technology and that always has its pro's and con's no matter where it is hosted.

Changing Perspectives on Risks

Beyond capital costs, the risks associated with large software installations have always been high. The risk involved in deciding on purchasing software has been pushed down the organisation and the potential heartache but also the thought of getting it wrong, botching the deployment or installation, delaying the benefits feeding through, cost of training and upgrade deployments start to worry executives who normally would not get involved. Take a CRM system - in the old days the IT manager may go and source the nice software for everyone to run. They might have chosen something like Siebel in the past and it would then have all the pain of taking legacy information into it, salespeople getting trained on how to use but on its vagaries. The sales managers could easily point the finger and blame the IT team if it went wrong. That has now changed as such decisions at least join in if not devolve to the sales managers.

They want lower risk options, easier to deploy, faster to get the benefits, low training requirements, and ease of upgrading - they want to minimise sales time wasted in the whole process and therefore not risk their earnings and therefore their jobs. was ripe for success in such an environment. While IT moaned about security, data ownership, cost of bandwidth, sales managers simply said 'do it' and the change was steam-rollered in. The same arguments apply today on other SaaS products and Luddite IT men fear for their skins as the enterprise is suddenly demanding less risk and more benefits - quicker. But the real force of change is coming from the Finance department, who are questioning the need for capital outlays and the real ROI of major enterprise software implementations - they also want change.

The recession and credit crunch has been 'The Perfect Storm' to get this driven into business minds.

The Dying Art of Selling

What SaaS has done is to reduce the cost of the sales model. The concept of ease of trial, deployment and 'sales consulting' has meant that fewer, less costly salespeople have got involved. Still today, Oracle or SAS salespeople can earn upward of £250,000 a year for their skills. A salesperson is less cost to the business as many points in the sales cycle are eliminated. At PlaceWare, we were able to quickly achieve $1m of quarterly annuity revenue on just 4 salespeople costing less than £250,000 a year to run in total. At any time, we had over 1,000 people trying before they bought so that we could concentrate on doing demos, helping people see the benefits of buying more licences and focusing on the larger deals. The next batch of deals were taking care of themselves via a neat free version called 'My PlaceWare' which over 15,000 accounts worldwide were using. It was the perfect sales funnel.

Longer term, this is a good trend. I have always challenged the skills of selling large scale enterprise software as a capital cost vs. SaaS - I think you need equal skills because ultimately you are solving the same problem and producing value to the customer - the skill is proving the value. I would match any SaaS salesperson against the £250,000 heavyweight because they just sell by the book - the tried and trusted 3 year ROI model which neatly hides a million issues. SaaS means you work harder on showing the ROI instantly - it's all about proving real, instant value. And that's a growing skill that requires heavyweight thinking but in a faster moving, less cost and agile salesforce.

It is like the trend to lower equipped, faster to deploy, lightly armed specialist troops in war rather than the heavy batteries of the past. The benefits are much faster to see for less cost.

Subscribing To The Future

The idea of paying for software by a monthly or quarterly subscription answers many of the questions on consuming capital unnecessarily. But it brings further benefits as companies can faster measure the ROI the software brings, while it provides a far lower risk method of deploying such solutions. But add into the equations that it also means that companies have wider choice and bargaining power. Just as the decision to buy is made easier and less risk by trying before buying, so to the cost of change is made easier. True, there is legacy, but the power moves back to the enterprise to make sure the solution continues to meet ROI benefits and that the software continually matches their needs. The issue that many have with a Microsoft is that you pay for far more than you get in terms of added products not used in the 'Stack' or for all staff when only a small percentage are using the software at any one time and many departments not at all.

SaaS allows you to drill down to every feature and every user - you only pay for what you use.

It also means that flexing up the model becomes far easier - the cost of infrastructure for delivery is absorbed by the vendor so you only pay for each new licence when you need not new servers when you reach limits. Software subscriptions provide the benefits of accuracy of billing while enjoying the benefits of easy scaling - up or down.

This is another reality of the recession. As companies clamour to take cost out of the business as staff disappear through redundancy, while they get payroll cost savings they do not save in the cost of software paid for them. Wrapped in those enterprise software agreements is no provision for return of 'licences not used' or 'no longer required'. In fact, all the software brutes look to get incremental sales each year regardless of staff size. SaaS allows you to scale both up and down - you simply vary the numbers of licences as and when. It means that in a recession, you can make not just cost savings on payroll but on services provided to the individuals too - immediately. This is something accountants will remember for the future as slashing costs associated with staff never quite hits the cost of a Full Time Head as dictated in the budget as most actually include these costs as well.

SaaS Should Never Have Got Off The Ground

When you think about it, SaaS should never have got off the ground. There was no big recession to drive people to think this way or a compelling requirement by IT of the business to go to a rental model. It was perhaps the innovation of entrepreneurs on the West Coast of America who thought about how to start up companies for lower costs without having to pay for big increments in infrastructure and licences every time they had added staff. There had to be a better way to get off the mark quickly, remain lean and be flexible to grow and take advantage of best in class software and the benefits to be gained.

It's why revolutionised the way companies think. The whole concept of effectively outsourcing the entire CRM system so that salespeople just had laptops, a car and no big databases to refresh each evening across expensive, secure networks was only the start. The whole process of running a salesforce could be outsourced and that's when SaaS got to the enterprise and became mission critical.

Lots of people complain that SaaS is open to the vagaries of the internet and in the early days this was a huge problem to the likes of Placeware and WebEx. But the world has changed. We hear loud shouts when Google's Apps go offline because it is a rarity and it affects lots of users. But how many times on a corporate network do we say to one another 'Email is playing up', or, 'the network is slow today,' or, 'I can't log on,' or, 'I can't get at that data', or worse still, 'I haven't got the most up to date data.'

The fact is that SaaS is here and now. It is always the freshest data, the latest revision of software and is available where ever you are, whenever.

SaaS - Right here, Right Now

The recession has taught a lot of things, but as always it is whether we actually take on board the learning. Certainly, one of the most powerful messages is that availability of capital is paramount to survival - it dries up and your business contracts, instantly. SaaS brings the ability for companies to conserve precious cash, scale up and down at will and be ready to meet the world with best in class features, every day.
SaaS is literally right here and right now - there has never been a more compelling reason or time to take a close look.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

MPs Are Off To The Funny Farm

Wow, if you want the perspective of an MP who simply has lost his marbles listen to the link to Anthony Steen's interview on the radio - he is Conservative PM for Totnes who has some massive house and claimed around £87,000 for basically trees and the upkeep of his garden.

On the one hand I find it hilarious but on the other it epitomises all the terrible things we have heard over two weeks of relentless revelations about MP expenses. In standing down, due to the anger of his constituents, who he accuses of 'jealousy' of his large house, he argues that he was a victim of a 'kangaroo court' and that he blamed it on the Government for signing up to the Freedom of Information Act as otherwise he would have been 'cleverer' and more prepared.

You can blame the Government for a lot of things but that is at least one thing they got right and if it means the demise of snooty prats like him, so much the better.

It makes you wonder how on earth he was voted into being an MP either by his local party members or the constituents. They must have been as mad as he was to have done so. It's what politics has become - you get the 'Tory Franchise' and you get the vote depending on your constituency. We used to see in my local area of Neath in South Wales that the local Labour Party could have put up a stuffed sheep and it would have been voted in. Close enough, we got Peter Hain.

It about sums up the whole situation - Steen is like Hazel Blears, the Speaker and the rest of them rotten to the core - they just have no clue that we have full rights to see what he calls 'his private information' as we are paying for it.

The gravy train is not yet over - not until it is somehow beaten out of their thick heads - it's our money and they are answerable to us.
The party is over, democracy 1.0 is dead and there is no upgrade. A whole new program is required preceded by a complete reformat of the disk. Hopefully there is a new manufacturer involved too.

The Return on Investment of Road Safety

A lot has been said about the use of speed cameras as a form of just raising a new tax on generally law abiding and safe motorists who are low insurance risks and have not killed anyone on the road. Here's a working example of how it all works.

I live in a place called Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. Near my home are two wide roads, one which leads from my village to Hemel Hempstead (the Bedmond Road to locals) via two villages called Bedmond and Pimlico, the other runs roughly in parallel from St Albans to Hemel (the Hemel road to locals). Once in the country stretches on each road, the national speed limit is applied but there are also clearly marked speed limits as you enter the built up areas. On the Hemel road, at a dangerous turning to get to the Bedmond Road, there are two speed cameras in each direction, less than a half mile apart from each other. They try to slow traffic down for the turning. These are good cameras and sensibly placed. They are near the village of Leverstock Green and a small set of reconstructed barns, so electricity and other amenities are close at hand for the cameras to work.

Further down the Hemel Road toward St Albans there is a long stretch with a big set of shallow curves which make the road fast but actually very dangerous for overtaking. Here, 'boy racers' love to gun their cars and overtake at speed. There have no less than 4 deaths by accidents on this stretch in the last 3 years, one very recently where there is a carpet of flowers laid out like a graveyard for the unfortunate young person who died there. There are other flowers further along for another recent death by accident - it is that dangerous around there.

Yet there are no cameras on this section of road. Mainly because there is no street lighting or houses near by. So electricity would have to be piped to the spots required for cameras to be effective, if they indeed are. That would cost too much money as the camera needs to 'pay its way'. No camera is erected unless it at least pays for itself but, far better, it makes a blinding profit.

Similarly on the Bedmond Road, there is the corresponding turning from the connecting road to the Hemel Road, along which cars race at high speeds even though this is not a T junction, but a staggered crossroads. Just a little further along from the Hemel side, near the entrance to the village of Pimlico, there is a bend where the streetlights begin and a tree at its apex. On the tree are teddy bears nailed, with flowers and messages even though the young person who died there did so over two years ago. There was another accident there no so long ago.

Racers, not content with the crossroads danger, speed into this bend, after which comes the 40 mph zone and they are almost blind to the dangers of oncoming traffic and the bend. In this case, we are on the outer, almost disputed limit of Three Rivers and Dacorum Councils, whose responsibilities it is to make this road safe. And because it is in 'no man's' land, then no one pays for a camera to be erected, and no one wants to do the calculation of whether enough cars go past to pay its way or make its profit.

That is the way road safety is thought of. Each camera must pay its way or make profit. If it can't, then road safety is not the priority. The priority is money making. It's why more cameras are in built up areas measuring people going over 30 mph than others as it is more likely to happen and easier to erect the cameras for less cost.

I would like to think I am wrong about this but the cameras put up on the built up end of the Bedmond Road in my Village of Abbots Langley are in the 30 mph zone, justified on the death of a dog. They are on a hill, less than a quarter of a mile apart. Now, I agree these cameras are well placed on that piece of road but I can't help feeling that the cost justification calculation was far easier given no actual road deaths had occurred there whereas less than a mile or so away toward Hemel on two other roads, several deaths had occurred recently.

We must not get duped about this whole road safety argument. We need more sensible driving, to be sure. We want less road deaths, be sure of that also. But speed cameras are not the answer in their current deployment criteria and until we get that out of our heads, we will not get past this argument between sensible drivers, who do not cause deaths but are easy targets for cash, and the pious people who think the cameras are the only way to balance their books.

In the last 10 years, over £1bn has been raised on speeding fines from cameras and the rate of new fines is £250k per day. Not a penny of that has been spent to prevent the deaths on two roads near me which have multiple deaths recorded in the recent past.

Economics drives road safety in this country, not common sense. Only when we break the equation between profit and the cost of life will we get progress.

The Game of Politics

Want to know how the Politic Game works? Listen in.

At 09:20 today, Nicky Campbell's phone-in on savage dogs was interrupted to go live outside 10 Downing Street from which a beaming Joanna Lumley had just emerged. Of course, she had been having talks with the PM himself and others regarding the plight of retired Gurkhas who wished to spend their retirement in the country they had proudly fought for. However, Ms. Lumley had nothing to say because there was to be an official announcement by Jacqui Smith at 12:30 and Gordon Brown had only allowed her 'to smile'.

Clearly, the outcome of the meeting had been very positive in favour of the Gurkhas and Lumley's allowed descriptions of the meeting as 'affectionate' and 'generous' were favourable to the munificent Government.

Cast our minds back to less than a month ago, when the same Government had tabled a motion in the Commons to stop any retired Gurkha from settling in the UK after retiring from the Regiment due to excessive cost. In a country that has pretty much open doors to anyone and especially those who sponge on our Welfare State, we were blocking people of a foreign nation who had actually served and fought for us - whose tradition of serving the British nation goes back nearly two centuries and earned the regiment no less than 26 VCs (I am not sure if that is a record for a single regiment).

Back to today, as the Government reels from body blow after blow of bad news mainly wrought upon itself, it chose to embargo the result of the meeting so that a disgraced Home Secretary and beleaguered PM could salvage some of their credibility by appearing as if this was a Government initiative and nothing to do with the campaign fought by Joanna Lumley on behalf of the Gurkhas and the backlash of the defeat of the Government's motion in the Commons, when several of its own MPs decided to forgo their cushy life and vote with their conscience.

The moment of victory, to be savoured, was to be Jacqui Smith's, not some well-educated sounding comedian whose father had served in the regiment with a people he had learned to love and respect.

The Way it Works

You see, this is the way it works. It's all about grandstanding, soundbites and being seen to be doing something. It's why words are far better than deeds as they are cheap and easy. The Gurkhas had to fight, be wounded or die on the battlefield to earn the right for the survivors to live in this country in retirement; it just took a hastily u-turned policy by the Government to salvage a few rating points from an increasingly disgruntled electorate. But, we are a stupid bunch, because many will actually believe that the Government should get credit for this - that this was on their mind all the while. And that's how Politics work - they use the principle of Pavlov's dogs.

They ring the gong at 12:30 and we get fed what we are told to believe.

To put it into context, we spent anywhere from £300bn to £1.3 trillion depending on whose baffling figures you read, so that bankers could be saved and could earn their vast profits and bonuses again, so that Hedge Fund managers can earn £billions and pay no tax, yet the total cost if all 36,000 retired Gurkhas had decided to live in Britain en masse was estimated to be £1.3bn. There was a time when we thought such a sum was huge, but we are now desensitised to such numbers in the context of the credit crunch and bank bail outs. £1.3bn seems like chicken feed.

It certainly is in the context of what the Gurkhas have done for us. Roll on 12:30 and let's get Jacqui 'Does Dallas' Smith out of the way - it's all for show. This moment is for the Gurkhas and Joanna Lumley.

Is The Apprentice A Good Place To Find Aspiring Leaders?

I don't why I did it, but I watched last night's episode of The Apprentice after I had promised myself that I wouldn't again and sure enough it was awful. Morbidly compelling - but awful. It left me feeling very sad and I shouldn't do, because I was feeling sad that Alan Sugar and his two 'experts' had to sit on this for several weeks of their lives. At least I didn't.

Last night's episode saw the demise of a nice looking guy called Ben Clarke who, as an aspiring stockbroker, came to the final meeting dressed like Gordon Gecko and with his chest puffed out. He had said to the cameras just seconds before his immortal catchphrase in his smooth Belfast brogue, 'There is no way in hell I'm going to go down for this.' He did.

To be fair there wasn't much to choose between them. The four losers arrived in the Boardroom with a mixture between fatalistic hang-dog expressions and those of angry people. One of the angry was Ben who frankly couldn't see how awful he had been and had way too much opinion of himself for a 'barrow boy' business man like 'Sir' Alan Sugar.

Sugar had started by cutting him down to size in a mastery way - to his question about what had 'gecko' ever done, he had retorted, not for the first time, that he had a scholarship to Sandhurst, to which Sir Alan had said that he had been apprentice bugler in the Jewish Boys Brigade. But rather than diffuse the atmosphere or acknowledge faults, all contestants seem to arrogantly challenge Sugar with past glories that were supposed to show how good they were. They seemed to forget that he had seen the footage at first hand of just how rubbish they were.

They all resorted to 'Interview Speak' where you diplomatically avoid the question and give your pre-prepared answer - decent interviewers would have cut through those far earlier which is why not one of them should have been selected in the first place. But television is very different to business. I take comfort in that fact.

You see not one of the conniving, puerile little back-stabbing rats represented anything like management material and I feel sorry for Alan Sugar that he has take any one of them on. After a session like last night, how any one of them could work together again was a mystery and shows how contrived the whole program is.

But we fall for it. Despite all we know about business, we view it and watch it. Famously, Ruth Badger, a dour faced, sarcastic back-stabber who had the annoying habit of making faces when everyone else spoke which she clearly had learnt as good business body language from Sir Alan, had her own show in the footsteps of Sir John Harvey Jones' 'Troubleshooter'. Thankfully it didn't last long as there is only so much of lack of acumen and spite you can take. The Apprentice is simply nothing like business.

Ah well, rant over. I dare say I shall watch it some time again, just to see which of the sniveling wretches Sugar has to choose. Poor Sir Alan, he then has to work with them for a year - then again, you reap what you sow.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Blue Ocean Thinking Needed For Politics?

I have blogged on the concept of Blue Ocean Thinking before, the idea that you can move from a world of high competition and low profitability in business to a new market of low competition and high profit opportunity. Some would argue, politics needs a similar makeover.

Yesterday, we saw an historic precedent as the Speaker was forced out - the first time such an unthinkable act has happened in some 300 years of politics. As much as there was baying for his blood after his recent performances, there was an equal rush to praise him by the same people while there is a growing opinion that he was pushed out as the scapegoat so that the public can see something tangible happening.

This way, it seems, few others will lose their cushy jobs thanks to Michael Martin falling on his sword.

Mixed Messages

I don't think this addresses the problems. While we had no real contrition from the Speaker, he was just sorry to have to go rather than for his actions or lack of them, Gordon Brown, while outlining some reforms and telling us what Hazel Blears did was 'unacceptable behaviour', he basically said she had done little really wrong.

It clearly is not the case and once again brings us back to a basic issue. Politicians seem not to understand that it is not about unacceptable behaviour - we are well passed that point. What it is about is clearing out the wrong doers completely. Only that way can we get some trust back into the whole system.

I also dispute Brown's belief that Hazel Blears has done nothing wrong - that is by his judgement only. The fact is that she deliberately deceived the taxman by declaring her parliamentary second home as her main residence. You have to know the difference between to the two systems in order to have claimed expenses on a second home and sell it as a main residence in order to get the benefit of not paying CGT - you cannot do it 'by mistake'.

In fact, you have to a pretty in-depth knowledge of both the Green Book and Tax Law in order to have worked the scams - because there are two in play here, only one of which Blears has offered any money back for. She paid the CGT knowing full well she had avoided paying it on what was her supposed main residence but she had claimed second home allowance on it also - which she did not pay back. By exploiting the fact they are two different systems she played us neatly and only paid back the lesser amount when, in fact, she should have paid back both. If she gave a damn, that is, but according to her the PM 'Thinks she's doing a great job'.

In the real world that is deliberate tax evasion and is against the law. Paying the amount in retrospect does not mitigate the intent - and the intent to defraud the tax man was the issue here.

This is at the heart of problem politics faces. It could take a General Election to flush out the offenders but this does not actually address the problem. At the constituency level, we are going to get misplaced loyalties over the law. Clare Moran is a case in point - while the country is outraged at the magnitude of her crime, her local party have endorsed her candidacy.

It's the Jeffrey Archer 'Lovable Rogue' instance all over again. The silly idea that a minor misdemeanour like defrauding the taxpayer should not get in the way of the fact that she is generally a pretty good egg really. The truth was illustrated when the BBC interviewed 64 people in Eliot Morley's constituency who had voted for him - 63 of them said they would not vote for him again.

That's the difference between politics and reality.

You see, it is not an issue for the parties to decide who is guilty or not - it is for the public to decide. By all means stick Morley, Moran and Blears up for re-election but they are asking for trouble and they will likely get it. Rather than these people resigning aide jobs or being suspended from the whip or the party, they should be dropped like hot potatoes, regardless of who they are.

The 'Gentleman's Club' that Brown refers to is still at work. These people are beyond the law and common decency and they should not be judged by their peers or bosses in Parliament or their parties, but be answerable to the law and the people.

The Interim Reforms

On the same day that the Heads of the parties agreed interim reforms which should get backed shortly, the Telegraph listed 12 'sins' or 'scams' that were popular amongst MPs. The reforms may cut down on some claims and try to prevent flipping but you have to wonder how clear and specific these reforms have to be. If you look into the Green Book and Tax Law, it is very clear that there was enough clear guidelines about this. It is why even interim reforms do not cut it.

Here are for instances. MPs who live within commutable distance from London should not be entitled to a second home allowance at all. Those MPs who stayed in 'holiday homes' while their sales went through would not be stopped. Those who give themselves a golden handshake like Tom Dalyell's bookcases just weeks before his retirement, like Mandelson claiming for house repairs after he resigned as an MP to sell his house for £136,000 profit, like those who claim for food without receipt even when the House is not sitting - these people are still not dealt with.

And it is clear why. MPs have, for the most part, never been in business and had to watch and account for every penny they spend as it is the employer's and so they do not understand the concept of using money that is not theirs. Rather like spending £300bn on bank bail outs and not on proper clothing for troops, they have a different view on life. When Geoff Hoon made sure his expenses were maximised for his personal comfort and gain, kids were being shot at in the wrong gear in Iraq.

Politics needs to find its Blue Ocean and re-invent itself.

What the Telegraph has exposed is that for years the country has believed that there were higher things to consider when governing and so you trust people when they says Iraq has WMD, you trust them when they take that back and say there were other good reasons, you trust them when they send kids to Afghanistan that they have given them the best protection they could. But the reality was that there was no higher things to consider as these MPs were just common, gutter crooks looking after themselves and voting for whatever Blair or Brown wanted. Their consciences had long since been bought as part of the elite club and their supposed free-thinking minds taken over.

The public deserve better than this even if they did get duped. The Telegraph has done us a great service and if money was paid, then it was in the best of causes. We have got far more payback in our tax savings than could have been paid.

It is time for Politicians and their apparatus to take a long hard look in the mirror and consider whether they could live with themselves. If they can then they ought not to be trusted in politics because it shows they have no conscience.

Let us hope that the people get to decide soon enough because we cannot trust that anyone is acting in our best interests right now, no matter what problem they are trying to solve. It is time we had our say.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Sweden - The California of The North?

Sweden is my destination this week and it's an amazing country. Stockholm, for those who have never been, has to be one of the most picturesque capitals in the world, particularly if you like water. Lots of water.

As a country it is slightly larger than California in area with over 9 million people. Famous for their Scandinavian good looks, blond hair and almost incomprehensible language, they are some of the most literate people in the world and speak English widely and extremely well. As well as being well known as travellers historically, they are a nation with a strong entrepreneurial and cultural spirit. A kingdom whose empire once occupied a huge swathe across Europe, it could argue that while Elizabeth I was important to Britain and ultimately the US, their own King at the time was arguably far more important.

With a good growth rate through 2006 of 2.7%, low inflation at that point of 1.4% and a GDP of around $35obn it is also a country that has survived the recession and credit crunch well. One of the leading carmakers of Europe at one stage, Saab has taken a dive while Volvo went the Ford way a while back. Home to some of biggest names in retail, everyone knows IKEA and H&M, while in technology Sweden has been a hotbed of innovation with Ericsson one of the biggest names in the world but it was also the birthplace of Skype and many other clever technologies. Scandinavia, generally, is one of the foremost mobile phone innovators in the world. It far off on financial companies either with Scania one of the largest insurance companies in Europe and SEB one of the biggest banks.

Sweden arguably punches above it weight at everything, true to the Viking tradition of the Nordic countries. From a small population it has produced some of the best sportspeople and teams in the world (tennis has been a massive winner, golf, football, winter sports, athletics too) while it has also contributed some well know people in the world of the arts, not least acting and films (I need not remind you of the Bergmann dynasty). At home, Sweden has the highest percentage of broadband to the home in Europe making it one of the most internet savvy of all nations.

Alcohol is expensive, the food is great, everyone takes recreation and relaxation seriously, Everyone skis, everyone seems to have a second home by the lake, everyone takes August off, everyone likes to have at least two square meals a day or they get ratty - and the people are very, very nice.

Nice People To Do Business With

For many companies aspiring to take new technology products into Europe, the UK is usually the first port of call, mainly because of the ease of matching the language, although we do get uppity about spelling. Outside of the UK, 'English tolerant' countries like Netherlands are usually preferred but many miss the technologically hungry Swedes who love the latest gadgets and software and are so easy to please when it comes to English.

It is a fact often overlooked by many US technology companies because it is seen as a bit too far away and nobody seems to know them too well. But for those of us enchanted by the Swedish culture, people and way of life as well as their business acumen, Sweden is not just a land of opportunity, it is open for business.

Swedish people are courteous, available, professional and knowledgeable. They know their markets and they are quick to assess opportunities. Moreover, they are honest, open and always give it to you straight. Due to the logistics involved in the Scandic region generally, prices have a habit of remaining relatively high and so margins are often above average as Swedish people and businesses value quality, service and solving their problems, particularly when it comes to communicating.

It makes Sweden one of the best places in the world to sell your products.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Will Politics Ever Be The Same Again?

David Cameron is petitioning for an election, Nick Clegg broke the unwritten law in calling for the Speaker's head, the Speaker could not remove his head from his own backside, Hazel Blears has replaced Tony Blair as Britain's most pious politician, Ben Chapman is not another MP on the fiddle, Esther Rantzen is thinking of standing as an MP and Frank Carson has backed UKIP.
British Politics has changed forever, surely.

It's a week we may all look back on as a defining moment in British democratic history. After years of systematically believing all that we have been told, we have found out that the British Political system is, in fact, as corrupt as it looked. On a day when Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson crept out of some dark cupboard at a car dealership and accosted a lone customer like two desperate secondhand car salesmen some way off their quota, we saw the stupidity of their ill thought plans when VAT on the scrappage deal got in the way. Clearly no one had bothered to look at the fine print, the minor marginal details or the fact that £2,000 is nothing compared to the deals to be had on less than 1 year old unregistered cars blocking the forecourts.

In reality, if we got the chance, we would all emigrate or at least become non-domiciled to evade tax like all the rich people. But we shouldn't. More mortgages were granted last month, foreigners reckon British property is cheap, banks are posting record incomes and will surely pay back all the money they owe us, the pound is rising from the ashes, the stock market is going up and England have gone 2-0 up in a Test series. If you had predicted all that a month ago, you could have had long odds, particularly on the cricket front. The only sure thing we thought would happen was Manchester United winning their 11th Premiership Title.

I am going to make some more predictions. There will be a General Election in May next year and Labour will win, England will have won back the Ashes, Europe will win back the Ryder Cup, Wales will win the Grand Slam, Peter Mandelson will be Prime Minister and an asteroid will have destroyed the Moon. Ladbrokes gave me short odds on the Moon destruction but slightly longer on the rest.

I joke of course as Mandelson will be too busy contesting 'I was a Celebrity, get me in here' a new show for failed and dodgy politicians, but I have a suspicion that Brown will not be Prime Minister but Michael Martin will still lead the house. While the electorate may see sense, the MPs themselves would never rat on one of their own so Martin will stay. Let's hope at the next Election we all vote out every single MP who took us for granted, that includes Brown and his cleaning bill at £3k+ a year.

What price Frank Carson for PM? We already have had one overweight comedian as a deputy so why not the whole hog?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Why Do We Allow Hedge Funds?

Hedge Funds have been at the centre of the economic disaster we have been suffering. While we spit and shout about the likes of Fred Goodwin, the principle reasons why markets failed, and we have had to spend incomprehensible amounts of money to bail out banks, is that we have allowed Hedge Funds to grow unchecked.

Hedge Funds are special investment vehicles which regulators allow to invest in a wider range of 'investments'. They are usually closed shops of private investors - you and I cannot be a part of it and they are given virtually limitless scope to make money. They also have virtually limitless power to pay their own managers enormous sums of money, most which, as usual, go untaxed. In fairness, some of the money they invest does filter down into ventures in new businesses or technology, but the lionshare of all their investments go into betting on the markets, commodities, companies, derivatives, debts and whatever else they fancy and the most fanciable is shorting - betting on demise. The 'hedging' is the loose term to suggest that they tend to offset their risks by betting all ways, hence they seem to be given widest latitude to shaft us all.

Hedge Fund managers are the real 'bonus' earners. If we think Bob Diamond and Nicola Horlick earn big money, even a failing Hedge Fund manager like Martin Hughes of the Toscafund that saw an 83% drop in profits last year, paid himself £14.9m - a massive pay cut from the previous year when he got paid £75m. He is relatively small fry - our Hedge Fund managers tend to earn far less than their US counterparts who can pocket literally $billions in a year.

Many are the stateless nomads that live in the chasm in this world that pays little or no tax. Having earned all that money, they believe they are above petty rules to share out anything they earn. They are doing a job for their investors and for that they can have almost limitless wealth.

In amongst all the financial turmoil we are in, no one has sought to rein in Hedge Funds and bring them into the real world. They perform a nice task for the financial centres, you see. They are the providers of this limitless pot of money that slops around the system that Gordon Brown wants to keep circulating. So it doesn't matter how much they earn or how they earn it, or whether their managers pay tax - they are the Gods of democracy and free market enterprise.

While we wallow in the mire of sordid MPs' doings, the Hedge Funds are back at it again. Making £billions and paying themselves each year more money than we will receive should we win the lottery jackpot every year. Of course, now that they have control of the system, we cannot do without them - so they can dictate the terms and tell us how much money we can use.

We bailed out the banks and we tried to kick start this terrible world of skewed earnings all over again. No regulation to curb the excesses, just bank bonuses. We didn't even scrape the surface of the real issue and cancer in the financial system. It's why this will happen again and again - and they will keep making vast sums of money on our demise.

But then again, as we have found this week - our MPs won't curb the excesses of these Hedge Funds as they would dearly love a piece of the action themselves. Then their sink plugs can be gold plated not brass like the rest of us.

Have We Cleansed Our Souls Yet?

The revelations on MPs' expenses have come thick and fast this week. Party leaders have wrought their fury on their MPs - many have paid back dodgy claims, some have lost whatever jobs they had.

Democracy is saved? No.

We have fought wars in other countries in order to impose 'democracy and the rule of law' on others we deem inferior to us. Young kids in the front lines are getting killed and horribly maimed by unseen enemies, because of the decisions made by corrupt people. Many die because of unclad fuel tanks on planes, improper armour plating on their vehicles, not enough protective clothing and others die just because they are there. The problem with democracy, which our MPs seem to not understand, is that our MPs are more concerned with claiming for every last bag of manure, every sink plug, every ice tray before they have the moral courage to pay to protect our armed forces or pay proper compensation for the injuries they suffer in the line of duty or their families for the deaths of their loved ones.

It's that basic. Our form of democracy has been exposed to be horribly flawed. Even last night, in the face of truthful criticism, MP Stephen Pound still defended his ruling class claiming, once again, that the newspapers were egging things up and getting facts wrong. Many MPs, some no less powerful than the Speaker himself, seem to think that there is some right that an MP is above the law and the scrutiny of the public as to how they spend their time and our money.

They forget - this is the whole point of democracy.

As Emma B, the broadcaster, said on TV last night, very eloquently, we entrusted them with our votes, our personal mandates. We entrusted them to make laws, decisions, make war, look after the ill, educate children, be ambassadors for our nation. What we got was an elite group who could wait to get their heads into the massive problem of how to make extra money.

It is good to see the long arm of the law reach out, but as we have seen this week, the worst that seems to happen is that someone resigns their role as an aide or a minister. We have yet to see a full expulsion from Parliament or a sacking as an MP. There is, of course, good reason for this. The PM is fighting on all sides for his political career now that he has been found out to have been grossly incompetent over the last 12 years when he painted the picture he was a saviour. Now he needs as many of the rotten eggs to support him as he can. They have him exactly where they want him. The same goes for the other rotten party members.

The one thing we can take away from all this is that the majority of MPs are more interested in themselves than the people who put them there.

This is merely the top of the pile. When we peel back the onion skin and look at the vast array of MEPs, Commissioners, Assembly Members, councillors and the armies of mandarins associated with governing at any level, we will find a systematic abuse of democracy at every level.

A Bad Example To The World

MPs bemoan our youth for not wanting to engage in the political process. Our kids are at each other's throats, literally, crime is not right, no matter what the statistics say. We save bankers rather than lives, we fail our sick by wangling budgets and targets, we fail our kids' education by dumbing down exams to make us feel good. We help people make more money than God, don't tax them and stifle innovation and new technology by not investing in it. All because our MPs' personal priorities are about self-preservation and personal gain. It makes governing more like a dictatorship with nodding dogs all around denying their consciences in order to keep their heads in the trough.

We then have the audacity, the gall, the sheer hypocrisy the foist this kind of system on others through violent means. No one says their systems are right but who are we, with our deep set corruption, our crime, our violent PC games, our all hours drinking and greed to think we are better than anyone?

Who are we to send armies to make others become like us? Iraq will get its Western-built infrastructure and McDonalds - welcome to the new world order.
Fill your boots, it's party time - democracy is here.