You might recall that—a couple of days ago—your humble Devil turned his ire on Kerry McCarthy. The Labour MP for Bristol East was showing off her ignorance of VAT law.
The Jaffa cake—is it a cake, is it a biscuit—saga is well-known, with its makers desperate to prove it was in fact a biscuit, so that it wouldn't be subject to VAT. (Cakes are, biscuits aren't; don't ask me why).
I left a comment at her blog, pointing out that maybe she would like to find out why this was the case.
Well, Kerry, you are a member of Parliament and so maybe—just maybe—you ought to go and look it up? Or if you are unable to do it yourself, could you not ask one of the members of staff that you spent £90,611 of our money on last year to do it for you?
For the record, I have no idea if the biscuit distinction was in the original EU Directive on VAT or wether it was gold-plating by our government. I suspect it's the former, but why don't you go and find out?
As it happens, my hunch was wrong and both FatBigot and TaxLawyer put me straight in the comments: it is a piece of UK legislation, amending the VAT laws.
However, today Kerry is moaning about the fact that she didn't get much of a debate on that post (although it seems that, on some subjects, she's not awfully keen on debate). [Emphasis mine.]
I don't think Cameron is quite advocating the Jello Biafra approach, but according to the Mail he's saying "If you're fat or poor, it's probably your own fault". Or the fault of people who decide that Pringles shouldn't have VAT charged on them. (Very disappointed by the response to that post; I thought it would spark quite a debate).
Well, I did try, Kerry, but the problem is that I seem to be rather more informed about, and interested in, the provenance of said laws than you are. And it is difficult to have a profitable discussion with someone who is not only ignorant of, but also uninterested in, the basic knowledge required underpinning such a debate.
I suggested that you go and equip yourself with said knowledge and what was your response?
Yes, I'll get my massively overpaid and underworked team of researchers and caseworkers to spend the rest of the week checking obscure bits of tax legislation, with instructions not to stop until they find out exactly which categories Hula Hoops, Wotsits and Quavers fall into. And let's not forget Twiglets.
For all those who constantly raise the expenditure on staff and office costs - would you rather I didn't employ anyone, didn't follow up on casework, didn't have anyone answer the phones or open the door to the hundreds of people who contact me asking me for help or advice each year? What point exactly are you making? Or are you just trying to score cheap political points?
For Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP, to accuse me of "trying to score cheap political points" is, frankly, a bit rich but, being the mild-mannered and patient chap that I am, I'll let that pass.
However, I certainly wasn't going to let her hide behind insinuations about her poor, down-trodden staff (perhaps you should actually insist that employment law applies to those working in Royal Palaces too, Kerry; then your staff wouldn't be so over-worked) and so I have just left another comment at her site.
Several things: first, I appreciate that your staff are probably busy.
Second: my point about your expenditure was to highlight the fact that you are joint 60th, out of 646, for staff costs. That would imply that you either employ a greater number of staff than the norm, or that you pay them more. I imagine that, either way, they could find some time.
Thirdly, and most importantly, MPs should not primarily be social workers; for that, we employ... well... social workers.
You are legislators: that is your prime function. You are, in fact, one of only 646 people who can make law in this country.
One might have thought that, as a legislator, it was reasonably important that you understood the laws on which you vote.
As such, if there is a piece of law that you don't know about, then I think that I might reasonably expect you to look it up.
"Yes, I'll get my massively overpaid and underworked team of researchers and caseworkers to spend the rest of the week checking obscure bits of tax legislation, with instructions not to stop until they find out exactly which categories Hula Hoops, Wotsits and Quavers fall into. And let's not forget Twiglets."
That was not what I was asking at all. What I was pointing out is that you should understand why there are different categories for VAT: not only because it is one of the government's primary revenue streams with income projected at over £80 billion this year, but because they also affect your constituents' lives.
You might like to start with the 1972 European Communities Act, for instance.*
And are you aware of the EU Commission's recent proposed changes to VAT? These, too, will affect your constituents. True, since VAT is an EU imposed tax, there is little that you can do to change rates or categorisations, but you should know about it nonetheless.
To return to my third point, laws are important because they control how people in this country live. And yes, the laws that you vote on are vastly more important than your casework; but the laws that you pass also affect your constituency casework.
Am I scoring political points? Sure, but not party political points: I am a classical liberal/libertarian and thus have a pretty low opinion of MPs of all stripes.
You just offered yourself up as a target by declaring your ignorance.
* If I, as an interested amateur, can be bothered to look this stuff up, then I think that it is reasonable that you—who are employed full-time, and employ others, to do this work—should also do so.
Now, does anyone think that I am being at all unreasonable here? Still, I am thinking of adopting Kerry as my new
Anyway, we shall see if Kerry responds.