Nonstarters: The Notice

If you notice this Notice, you’ll notice this Notice is not worth noticing.

Many Kickstarter failures blunder into the gutter on the back of inept pitches and underwhelming products. This one, however, featured a fairly slick video for a good-looking object that seemed to do its job very well.

That job, however, is not one that most people in a reasonable emotional state could want done.

The “Notice” faithfully transmits the silhouette-envelope-globe notification panel from Facebook onto a Zuckerberg-blue plastic box in front of your monitor, keeping you aware of pending messages, events and friend requests via red LED numbers and noises.

Are we really so damaged as a culture that we need to be reassured that something is happening on Facebook even in the furtive moments when we have other sites up on our screens?

Facebook already feels like an ogre with a rope, constantly yanking me in to look at its holiday photos. Why would I want to invite that ogre through the screen and into the physical world?

Life could only become more tense with this thing staring me in the face, huffing tinnily and quacking numbers in red light to remind me I should be online.

Yes, you can set a threshold below which it won’t bother you, but it will still be there: the ogre’s rope, looped around your attention span and ready to be tugged.

And the reward for funding? Your name moulded into the casing of every unit made. I’d rather have my name inscribed on Geneva-banned cluster munitions.

Luckily, the Notice only achieved $4,169 of its steep $20k goal, but that’s $4,169 too much for my confidence in consumer sanity. What’s next, an implant that clamps to the base of your skull and shunts Twitter directly into your visual cortex?

Probably.

The Notice. Photograph: Kickstarter

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.