Thursday, 20 September 2012

Rip-Off Britain

The term "Rip-Off Britain" has been used for many years to describe things which cost more in the UK than in other countries. Of course, rogue traders exist everywhere, and odd things often happen with prices of identical products which are sold in different countries. In this, Britain is really no worse on average than anywhere else. However we've found that to really be ripped off by Britain you need to emigrate.

A case on point, we recently had to renew our British passports. This, according to the British Government's own web page in the UK, costs £72.50 per passport, including postage (they recommend paying an additional £8.75 to the post office for more secure postage).

However, we live in the Netherlands and cannot order our passports in the same way. In order to receive our renewed passports we had to navigate a remarkably complex website and send our original documents to France (the British embassy in the Netherlands doesn't do useful things like this). The procedure for doing this is very odd indeed.

According to the website for the "Regional Passport Processing Centre" (this "region" being somewhat larger than the whole of the UK), the cost per passport is €170 per person, plus a €27 courier fee.

The interest/charge was levied for one of the two completely
un-necessary currency conversion, from Pounds to Euros.
Sadly, the processing centre only accepts payment through a choice of two American companies (Mastercard or Visa). For that reason it was not possible for us to pay in Euros from our Euro bank account to their Euro bank account. Instead, we had to pay from our British bank account in Pounds.

The eventual amount taken from our bank account in the UK for two British passports which would have cost £145 delivered in Britain was £309.20 - a rip-off margin of 213% relative to what it would have cost if we still lived in the UK.

That's the result of several things put together:
  1. The price for a passport is set arbitrarily higher for us than it would have been if we still lived in the UK.
  2. The higher cost of postage (I have no argument with this, but it is a small part, rather less than 10%, of the total).
  3. The bizarre requirement that payments made from a British citizen to the British government must always be processed through an American commercial corporation who take their cut.
  4. The cost of two currency exchanges - from Pounds to Euros and back again to Pounds as presumably the money is supposed to end up in the UK.
At least we have ten years before this can be forced on us again.

Because our British bank doesn't seem to believe that merely living outside the country means we're no longer residents, our British bank account still has tax deducted from it as if we lived in the UK, meaning that we are double taxed on the small amount of money which remains in that country.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Taxation without representation

I've been disenfranchised for my entire life. While I had been able to vote in the UK since I was 18, not once did my vote ever count for anything at all due to the terrible "first past the post" electoral system of the UK.

One of the good things about the Netherlands is that there is a much fairer political system here which gives smaller parties a voice. As a result, votes are not wasted in the Netherlands and no-one is disenfranchised. Well, I say "no-one", but actually that's not quite true as I remain disenfranchised. I can't vote in national elections in the Netherlands because I am not (yet) a Dutch citizen. I could still vote in the British elections, but there's really not much point in going to the effort of registering to do so merely to see my vote count for nothing at all yet again. As a result, I am disenfranchised. I pay tax to the Dutch government, but I do not get to influence the Dutch government. Taxation without representation as Americans would likely put it.

That sounds bad, but actually it is no worse for me than it would be if I lived in a country with a less fair political system, such as the UK, USA or many others where I could see my vote count for nothing year after year. There are many people in those countries whose votes never count for anything and they are just as disenfranchised as I am.

What is needed is electoral reform to a fairer system as is used here in the Netherlands. There has long been a movement in Britain which would like to achieve a fairer political system, but last year the reformers made such a colossal mess of their campaign that they set back any attempt to fix this problem for many years.

Now that brings me to the upcoming election in the Netherlands (September 12th). There were hustings in the centre of Assen yesterday and the local representatives of political parties were out in force to convince people to vote for them. This all happened in the middle of the main shopping area in Assen, where there are always hundreds of bicycles parked. Only one political party brought along a car as the centre-piece of their display and that was Groenlinks - the "Green Party" of the Netherlands.

I've noticed before, not only here but also in the UK and other countries, that "Green" parties seem to be particularly easily taken in by the implausible claims of car manufacturers that today's latest technology (what technology that is varies from year to year and has been unleaded fuel, catalytic converters, hybrids and electric cars, for instance) will somehow transform what is one of the most energy wasting devices that we have into something altogether different. This never happens of course, because actually such claims are mere relativism. Electric cars use almost exactly the same amount of energy as cars which burn fossil fuels directly and they are just as capable of killing more than a million people each year. It is only good for car manufacturers if everyone buys a new car and throws away the old ones, not for the environment.

It's Greenwash, nothing more, and it's a shame that it is believed. I don't vote for Greenwash, so I don't vote for Green parties either. I find it amazing that Green politicians are often not particularly enthusiastic supporters of cycling, and that this is true not only in other countries where bicycles are not used much for transportation, but also here in the Netherlands where we have a higher proportion of trips made by bike than in any other country in the world.


The Fietsersbond has information on their website about the policies of each party with regard to cycling. Groenlinks does have a lot of good policies for cycling, even though they are also enthusiastic about cars.

I could vote, I'd be voting Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD) - Party for the Animals. I think the name makes many people think they are little more than a single issue pressure group, however this party seems to have more comprehensive green policies than any other, and they are the only one to really recognize the effect of animal based agriculture and diet on our world.

Anyone who has ever tried out an online "ecological footprint" calculators will have noticed that adopting a vegan diet and using motorized transport as little as possible are the most effective things that one can do for the environment.