Pass the sickbag, Alice

. . . on tax dodgers, deportations, crocked fast bowlers and women drivers

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is leaving us. “I own my own business, which moves electronic components around the world and employs some 20 people,” writes Russell Payne from that town, in (naturally) the Daily Telegraph. “My income is around £200,000 a year. Goodbye.”

You must not accuse such people of being hard-hearted or selfish, or of indifference to those losing homes and jobs. Their concern, you must understand, is for the poor who, as another prosperous letter-writer said in the Independent, face “a double-whammy”. Jobs will be “destroyed” as Disgusted takes his glittering talents elsewhere and, without his generous contributions to the Exchequer, the poor will suffer higher taxes.

Sometimes, only a cliché will do, so I am going to write (for the first time in my life, I think): “Pass the sickbag, Alice.”

Two things in particular cause the bile to rise in my throat. First, we are told the new 50 per cent tax (plus 1.5 per cent National Insurance) will drive away “wealth creators”. Yet likely exiles named in the Sunday Times are mostly financial advisers, hedge-fund managers, mergers and acquisitions consultants, and so on. Such people do not “create wealth”. Through fees, they levy an invisible tax on wealth that other people create. They are far more parasitical than anything in the public sector. Even Disgusted, I note, doesn’t claim to make anything; he just moves goods “around the world”.

Second, we keep hearing the “thin end of the wedge” argument. Now the 50 per cent barrier has been broken, the Chancellor might eventually tax, say, those earning more than £200,000 at 60 per cent. “The Principle of the Wedge,” wrote the early 20th-century don F M Cornford, “is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in future – expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy.” It is closely related to his “Principle of the Dangerous Precedent”, which says that “you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you . . . should not have the courage to do right in some future case”.


As another summer of international cricket approaches, about half the fast bowlers in the country, including Andrew Flintoff, are injured.

Why does this happen so often? All fast bowlers are injury-prone, but ours seem more so than most. The answer, I fear, is we don’t allow our children to run around – except in strictly controlled conditions – and, therefore, they never become comfortable in their bodies, absorbing the stresses and strains that bowling at speed inevitably brings. When we have a brilliant young fast bowler, such as the Lancastrian James Anderson, we fuss like overprotective parents and tell him to change his action lest it cause injury. He did so, with dire results. Now he has reverted to his old action, he is, excepting the perpetually crocked Flintoff, our best bowler.


A petition has appeared on the Downing Street website against lowering the speed limit on single-carriageway roads to 50mph. A random sample of the 26,000 signatures suggests that at least 90 per cent are men. I wonder how many are under 25.

I have nothing against lower speed limits. The argument that it’s safe to do 60mph on a straight, empty road in good conditions is spurious: the unexpected can happen (a car pulling out of a side road, an animal straying into your path) and a lower speed allows more time to react and risks less damage, particularly to human beings. But I have a better idea. If we raised the minimum driving (and motorcycling) age for men to 25, while leaving it unchanged for women, road accidents would be slashed overnight. Drivers under 25 are at fault in a third of fatal accidents, and they are four times more likely to be male than female.

The beneficial side effects would include less congestion, quieter roads and more use of and support for public transport, particularly late-night services. Women, as sole legal motorists, would enjoy enhanced status and bargaining power. I have never myself driven a car. Lethal weapons are much better controlled by women, who do not have to cope with all that testosterone coursing through their bodies.


How can the 12 Pakistanis seized on suspicion of plotting what the PM called a “very big” terrorist act be released without charge – well within the maximum 28-day period – and then deported all the same?

The answer, we are led to understand, is that, while the security services failed to discover any traces of bomb-making material, they have evidence from interception of communications – or possibly other intelligence – that the 12 were plotting something dastardly. Intercept evidence, however, is inadmissible in UK courts.

This suits the security services nicely. They need not present evidence to a public court of law, only to a secret tribunal which demands lower standards of proof and discloses “evidence” only to an advocate who isn’t allowed to communicate with the accused. Deportation usually results in the alleged terrorists being locked up anyway, either in the country to which they return or, if that is thought “unsafe”, here.

More than a year ago, the Chilcot report recommended – and ministers accepted – that intercept evidence should be revealed in court, as it is in the US, for example. Nothing has happened because the security services argue that disclosure might jeopardise their information sources and, besides, they haven’t time to prepare evidence in a form acceptable to a court. What they mean, I think, is that all Muslims are potential enemy aliens and it’s best to lock a few up now and then.


The other day, a friend emailed, lamenting, as he often does, the state of the Labour Party. I use Gmail, which immediately flagged: “Fed up with Labour? . . . Join the Conservatives.” Scary, eh?

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 04 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Flu: Everything you need to know