Mitt Romney's new rich-guy problem

He's done a Cameron: Got in trouble for a horse.

Mitt Romney's done a Cameron. He's in trouble because of a horse.

The New York Times:

Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, who plan to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in London this summer, now have a personal rooting interest in the event. Jan Ebeling, Mrs. Romney’s longtime riding tutor, and his horse Rafalca, co-owned by Mrs. Romney, earned a berth on the United States Olympic dressage team on Saturday.

Mitt Romney owns a horse. Not just any horse – an Olympic standard dressage horse. You know dressage – it's that horse-based sport which is second only to polo in its near-total lack of relateability to your average American voter.

The Romneys actually declared a loss of $77,000 on their ownership of the horse in 2010, and according to Matt Yglesias, the horse-related tax code is more complex than us non-horse-owning mortals could comprehend:

The way this works is that [the horse's owners] have together formed a corporate entity called "Rob Rom Enterprises LLC" which owns Rafalca and pays for his upkeep. The Romneys reported $77,731 in "passive losses" related to their investment in Rob Rom Enterprises but of that their account only deemed $50 to be actually eligible for deduction. The forms don't explain the thinking behind that, but it's probably because losses from your horse corporation can't be used to offset unrelated income. If Rafalca had brought in more money, then Rafalca's care and feeding expenses could be deducted from that income, but in 2010 Rob Rom Enterprises doesn't seem to have had much income.

That said, now that Rafalca is heading to the Olympics, he's likely to suddenly start bringing in a lot more money, which that $77,000 can be offset against. So at some point, Romney probably will end up paying less taxes because of a horse.

Horses: Not good for your reputation as a world-leader (unless you're Putin)

A dressage horse (and rider). Not Romney's dressage horse, sadly. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.