Is there any hope of rescuing London’s overheating property market?

Written for First Wealth, a long read on housing. That’s exciting, right?

It is often said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, no, in fact there are three: death, taxes, and the eternal climb of London property prices.

The difficulties first time buyers face are brutally illustrated by the fact that only 14% of Londoners own their own home. The average monthly rent meanwhile stands at £1500 per month, far beyond what most people in the capital can afford.

With London’s housing shortage so chronic that even Harry Potter-style cupboards under the stairs can demand rents of £500 a month, it’s important that we start to seriously consider the ways in which we can ‘cool off’ the UK capital’s property market and make it a more inclusive, affordable and competitive place to both rent and buy.

There are three broad possibilities for curing the cancer: rent controls i.e. government intervention, increasing supply, and reducing demand.

The case against rent controls is strong: Urban decay and homelessness proliferated in the 70s when controls were first introduced in the UK, as landlords refused to maintain properties they weren’t making any money from and housing shortages meant that many found it difficult to find a home. But tempered rent controls that steer clear of introducing an overall price cap – things like raising the minimum tenancy agreement up from six months to three years and introducing legislation that places an upper ceiling on rent increases – could put an end to the current trend of excessive hikes.

Nobody advocates capping house prices. But we can exercise indirect influence on prices via a miscellany of regulatory devices, things like limiting the size of mortgage loans by capping loan-to-value or loan-to-income ratios. The current loan-to-value ratio is back up to 95%, which encourages buyers to take on massive debt to finance homes they will struggle to afford – the vicious knock-on-effect being that they are increasing prices even further.

There are also solutions to limiting demand, though many seem radical. LSE’s Kathleen Scanlon believes that one of the big reasons demand is so strong in London is because of the “massive over-centralisation” of the UK’s economic and public life. While in the USA New York serves as the country’s financial capital, Washington as political capital, Boston as capital of higher education and San Francisco as tech capital, in the UK, London serves all of these roles.

If the UK can reconcile the north/south divide, we might be able to not only reduce pressure on London house prices but also cultivate a healthier country overall. With the Houses of Parliament crumbling and in desperate need of long-term repair, is it not time we seriously considered moving government to another of the UK’s major cities, even temporarily? And what better way to combat the recent loss of 1700 steel jobs in Redcar by investing major funds in transforming it into one of the UK’s tech hubs? The death of an old industry needn’t be a tragedy: it could just as easily be a major opportunity to slingshot the UK into the 21st century.

Still, in London, demand isn’t the biggest problem. That accolade goes to the imbalance of demand in the UK capital. Much of the demand in London is driven by wealthy foreigners, with more Russian oligarchs and Gulf billionaires snaffling up property with every passing day.

Eye-watering house prices are a knock-on effect of so many super-rich individuals seeking properties – not only that, they also act as a huge draw for big-time money launderers. When prices are this high, millions of pounds can be laundered in one fell swoop, while Britain’s notoriously lax rules on the disclosure of property ownership only stoke the flames further.

Should it really come as any surprise that London is now a global magnet for corrupt funds? While minted criminals and corrupt officials prosper, ordinary Londoners are being priced out of the market, with many claiming that developers have been skewed towards developing luxury flats rather than ones that the majority of the market can actually afford. In this regard, encouraging transparency and cracking down on dodgy foreign investment has to be a priority in any strategy to bring sanity and affordability back to London homes.

If we find it ultimately impossible to lower demand, it follows that we must increase supply instead. As City Metric editor Jon Elledge eloquently puts itBuild More Bloody Houses!

While there may be many housing projects planned or currently in construction throughout the capital, they are all being built at a painfully sedate pace nowhere near fast enough to keep up with demand. This is not a case of ‘We’re going as fast as we can’ but more one of ‘This is as fast as we are willing to go’. Developers know that releasing too many houses onto the market at the same time will drive down the price of individual homes – and reduce their profits. Incentivising developers to release housing stock at a quicker pace, whether via subsidies or sanctions, carrot or stick, is one route to affordable rents and homes.

But many are less than convinced of the private sector’s ability to fill the void of state-funded housing, a supposed requirement it has consistently failed to fulfil since the 1980s, when Thatcher drastically cut back on government house building and introduced right to buy.

“Pretty much every policy trick unveiled by ministers – whether planning changes, brownfield land tax breaks or other subsidies – will have limited effect on affordability,” says Andrew Teacher, managing director at Blackstock Consulting. Teacher advocates reclaiming responsibility from an indifferent private market and returning to pre-Thatcher levels of state-funded house building:

“The answer to building more is for the government, as the country’s biggest landowner, to take direct control and use record-low interest rates to lock in debt which can be repaid down the line through rents. Such assets could then easily be wrapped up and sold on, much like other forms of infrastructure, such as railways or power plants.”

Of course, NIMBYism and green belt restrictions are always going to put up significant barriers to a full-scale government-funded house building programme.

But what if we could increase the amount homes coming onto the market without building? Scanlon proposes that we persuade older ‘over occupiers’ – single people or couples living in family homes – to downsize by moving to one or two bedroom properties, which would release a significant level of housing stock for younger families.

“One of the reasons that many older ‘over-occupiers’ remain in their large homes is that the alternatives are so grim,” Scanlon says. “Many would never move into a retirement home, however tidy and well-run, unless forced to do so by ill health or dementia. We need to create positive, attractive living arrangements for later life—homes that active older people would genuinely prefer to live in.”

A new breed of thinking on this issue is already starting to germinate in parts of the UK, with projects like Featherstone Lodge, a co-housing community for over-50s in South London, suggesting the way forward.

While some may scoff that it’s a miracle rent prices in London aren’t any higher, that doesn’t mean that it is an acceptable state of affairs for them to be as exclusively expensive as they are. A city in which only a select few can afford to live will eventually cease to be a city at all.

Image via Dave Catchpole / cc

5 ‘essential’ items that you should never take to a festival

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For Sub.tv

Festival season awaits us, crouching in a musky portaloo just around the corner. Soon we’ll all be able to vacate our dusty urban cages and hop on the mildly grotty Megabus to fields, freedom and scatty NOS vendors. In the spirit of freedom, it’s high time that some rules were laid down regarding the many useless items that most ‘festival veterans’ insist on taking with them. Because no, it’s not clever, or wise, to drag these useless ‘essentials’ through the muddy bogs of Blighty all season. As you’ll soon discover, festivaling minus the baggage will make you feel so liberated you’ll think you’d just kicked down the Berlin Wall.

Read the rest here…

Life under Farage: 8 things students would face if Ukip rose to power

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Written for Sub.tv

Student support for Ukip is booming. We’ve picked out a few policies which students may find interesting.

186,247. That’s the number of students in the UK who support Ukip, right wing firebrands of our political spectrum. That number has doubled since the last time someone went around the nation’s campuses with a clipboard asking the student populace who they intend to vote for if they don’t sleep in on polling day. But what would it be like to be a student in Farage’s Britain? What is the better future these 186,247 students believe Ukip will provide?

We peeked in to the future and witnessed the below…

Read the rest here

Want a highly paid graduate job? McDonald’s is better than media and law

Written for Sub.tv

Jobs; everybody remember jobs? They’re back! Graduate jobs especially – Lucky folk graduating this year will chuck their oddly-shaped blue hats into the best job market in over a decade. Employment prospects are even better than when Tony Blair managed to ignite an economic boom by fathering a spectacular harem of middle-management positions.

But even the staggering intellect of ‘our Tony’ could not have guessed that the jobs paying the best money were… what, Aldi?

Want the top-paying grad job outside of the City? Call Aldi

Aldi has brought Britain many things; obscure brands, affordable cheese and the ‘Aldiki’. These we know and revere – but the starting salary of forty grand plus for rookie grads is perhaps the most wonderful gift of all. To put that into perspective, MI6 pay begins at a miserly £29,000. As if the rambunctious glamour of Aldi’s cured meats section wasn’t enough to turn you away from all that ‘shaken, not stirred’ nonsense.

Read the rest here…

I’m About to Become a Human Guinea Pig: I Don’t Care About the Needles, I Just Want a Bloody Drink

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I’m now set up with a blog at the Huffington Post. This is one of those immersive pieces about clinical trials.

The clinical trial I am about to participate in marks the perigee of my post-university tragedy. Since graduating last summer I’ve pottered from unpaid internship to dole queue, pretend freelance posting to bar job, friend’s bank account to unprincipled and masochistic hunger strike. Career-wise, I’ve had an absolute stinker. If, dear reader, you are ever unfortunate enough to reach this point, you will find that you fleece yourself (hopefully only temporarily) of serious ambition, disembark the train marked ‘vocation’ and skip over a few electric fences on your way to hopping on a freight marked ‘survival’.

Whereas an unpaid internship can instil within you a kind of futile hope – unemployment’s equivalent of the Arab Spring, like Walter Mitty wearing a turban – a clinical trial is just that: clinical, cold, an inevitable recourse with nought but raw ephemeral cash at its end. There’s no purpose to a clinical trial, not the slightest possibility of finding one’s virtù. The men in white coats, after all, do not care about you. They care about your body, your avatar, and how it reacts to TEST VACCINE FDXXR897C.

Read the rest here

Young? Poor? You’re probably caught up in the voteless cycle

From my new blog…

Episteme of the Oryx

checkout girlDavid Moyes

Anyone watching that miserable tale, David Moyes and his rag tag band of men who have forgotten how to kick a ball, will be familiar with the concept of a vicious cycle. Manchester United lose > player confidence plummets > Manchester Utd lose > player confidence plummets, and so on. Several unfortunate factors or events which through the grinding of celestial logic and circumstance conspire to perpetuate each other to an unsavoury event horizon.

Cheery enough, you might think, when it’s the Red Devils suffering as a result. But there are other vicious cycles in which things we all hold very dear are at risk. Step forward, universal suffrage.

Last night Owen Jones fired off a quick column on political apathy, arguing that the likes of Russell Brand, Will Self and the everyman with an indiscriminate hatred of politicians are not to blame for the UK’s low voter turnout

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Vanity portraits ‘scandal’ says more about our press than our politicians

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New blog; it’s pure rapture.

Britain loves a scandal. That phrase would usually run “loves a good scandal” but the truth is that we Brits are not all that picky when it comes to drama. As long as we are cosseted by crisis it matters not one jot whether a scandal is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As when snorkelling at sea, it’s the absolute submersion which delights us, not the purity of each particle of H2O we swim through.

The vanity portraits ‘scandal’ is a case in point. As Jonathan Jones pointed out in The Guardian yesterday, nearly every news outlet framed the story as another disgusting example of an aloof political class frittering away taxpayer money. According to the press, the politicians were once again showing off their unfathomable desire to become more unpopular than gonorrhoea and toothache during christmas dinner.

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The Syrian Electronic Army: Amateurs or Assad PR arm?

Explainer article on the Syrian Electronic Army, written for The Week

AN OUTFIT calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army is hacking some of the world’s biggest media websites, causing disruption and confusion this week at Twitter, the New York Times and the Huffington Post. The group’s latest assault follows similar cyber attacks earlier this year on the Financial Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC.

The latest attacks began on Tuesday when users of the microblogging site Twitter logged on to find the website’s usual home page replaced by this jumble of metadata. The online edition of the New York Times was next, reports Fox News. The NYT attack forced editors to set up alternative websites to publish stories on the unfolding crisis in Syria. One of these sites carried an article which admitted the paper’s main site had been the victim of a “malicious external attack”.

Read more: http://www.theweek.co.uk/world-news/syria/54863/syrian-electronic-army-amateurs-or-assad-pr-arm#ixzz2yfTkKZjK

Naïve independence – Planet Ivy meets Ukip’s youth leader

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My first big interview for Planet Ivy is with Rob Comley, leader of Ukip’s rebellious youth wing. He’s not quite what you’d expect… in a good way.

Sat up in a classical pose, hands clasped, back straight as a ruler and body tilted diagonal so as to push an open chest to his interviewer, Rob Comley certainly carries the body language of a politician. He’s had training. Most probably informal; a hand on the shoulder and a vial of advice from one of his party’s more experienced political operators in how to deal with pesky journalists asking pesky questions.

As the chairman of Young Independence, the UK Indpendence Party’s acne-ridden youth wing, he can certainly expect to face a lot of those. Ukip is a political party with scandal running through its veins. A dickie-bow-tied magnet for eccentric public servicemen and outspoken flag-wavers alike, Ukip finds itself in the news as often for politically incorrect drama as it does for policy. And this is a state of affairs that it is happy to revel in; anti-politics, anti-authoritarian and often appallingly racist, the Ukip patriarch is that antiquated yellow and purple smudge on Britain’s political spectrum, just to the right of Melanie Phillips. Surely I was in for a treat then, meeting up with this wicked parent’s pubescent offspring? As I walked through Wapping’s cobble-stoned backstreets on the way to the interview I allowed my mind to imagine the kind of person Comley to be, in that bizarre way humans do when they create whole personalities for people they’ve never met. Would he be a mini-version of Ukip leader Nigel Farage, an annoyingly charming zealot with a diminutive tweed jacket? Or would he be an incoherent anti-intellectual with an English flag tattooed across the back of his neck? Either way, I was sure that I was about to step into the same pub as a nutter. Oh happy days.

Read the rest of the interview on Planet Ivy.

Ten Things You Never Knew About Ed Miliband

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This article originally appeared on Planet Ivy and the Huffington Post.

Everybody knows Ed Miliband is the union-backed, rather goofy looking, leader of the Labour Party. But here’s 10 things you didn’t know about our possible future prime minister and overlord…

Ed doesn’t vote much for a politician: Miliband doesn’t turn up to vote in parliament very often, only casting his ballot in a third of commons debates. Now, there are three possible reasons for this. Number one is that he’s the leader of the opposition and, as such, is a busy bee with a smart tie and rather a lot to be getting on with thank you very much. Two: he’s a lazy bugger and can’t be arsed to turn up. Or three: he doesn’t want to upset anyone/sully the Miliband brand by voting on particularly divisive issues. You can make your own minds up about that one. When Ed does turn up to vote he’s typically progressive – voting to get rid of the creaking trophy cabinet of aristocrats, Monocle readers and fox hunters that the House of Lords likes to call ‘hereditary peers’, voting against tuition fee increases and voting for gay marriage rights. As a relative young gun in the parliamentary wild west he wasn’t around for the Iraq war but did vote against a bill which proposed an investigation into Tony Blair’s bloody campaign.

Expenses, what expenses?: When the expenses scandal broke back in 2009, Ed Miliband was actually the most frugal member of the cabinet, racking up less than eight grand of his £23K a year allowance. Although he did claim for a television license, which seems a bit cheeky, as well as £3525 on a speech-writing consultant despite having a taxpayer-funded special advisor to help him out with that already.

Ed can do a rubix cube in 90 seconds: Not like ye mere mortals, Ed can finish that awful multi-coloured device designed to separate the learned from the cubically challenged. Not only that, he can do it in 90 seconds too. We guess that intensive rubix cube tutelage comes complimentary with the Oxford education.

Ed likes crap TV shows, but never has enough time to watch them: In a who’s who of shite television shows, Miliband has confessed to loving Eastenders, Desperate Housewives and Dallas. Due to his tight political schedule however, he admits to never really having the time to catch up with the latest twists and turns of this holy triptych of soap opera banality. Which, we suppose, is one thing he should really be thanking politics for.

Ed’s not the most athletic of chaps: Just look at him run! It’s nostalgically reminiscent of the limp hen who gets told off for not laying enough eggs in Chicken Run.

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Ed’s got a Blue Peter badge: At the tender age of 10, Ed decided to throw himself into the cocaine-fuelled 24-hour rave club that the BBC were marketing as Blue Peter. Dipping and diving through an intimidating assault course of wasted presenters and Savile-sponsored predatory cameramen, the young Ed managed to snatch himself one of the hallowed Blue Peter badges, following a full recital of all the British Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole. Is there anything this man can’t do?

If Ed wants to be PM, he needs plastic surgery: Unfortunately for Ed the British public seem to think that he can’t become Prime Minister. According to the Daily Express, Miliband would need to shell out a whopping £14,000 on plastic surgery before the British serfdom would consider him pretty enough to elect to rule over them. Maybe he could just use the money he’s got left over from his expenses allowance?

Ed’s into arena rock: He likes U2 – the early warning system designed by the musical gods to pick out human beings with music tastes below the level of a deceased caterpillar.

Ed’s best quip: On David Cameron’s minimum alcohol pricing U-turn:

“Can the Prime Minister tell us if there is anything that he could organise in a brewery?”

Last place on Earth you’d expect to find Ed: In a punk bar circa 1975, wearing a leather jacket soaked in urine with ANARKY tattooed across his forehead.

The trade union revolution at Pizza Hut

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Latest feature for Planet Ivy, featuring an in-depth interview with David Pike, founder of the Pizza Hut Workers Union in Sheffield. The revolution will be stonebaked?

“So, what’s a trade union then?” is a question that 30 years ago would have been laughed out of Britain’s pubs and social clubs in a whirlwind of Communist manifestos and choreographed chanting. Everyone paid their subs. Everyone took to the streets. Everyone stood together.

12.2 million people were part of some form of trade union by the end of the 70s. But successive Conservative governments and the invention of Blue Labour have since pushed the movement to the brink of irrelevance. Even Ed Miliband, who got the top job at Labour on the back of his ties to the union movement, is now vociferously biting the hand that fed him and cutting back at its influence within his party.

For the remaining union members, that initial question no longer seems so laughable.

Read the rest of the article here.

How Topshop ruined anarchy

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This is my first longer feature for the lovely folks over at Planet Ivy. They are that bit of the internet which your mother would not approve of you visiting.

Peroxide blonde girl 1: “Kelly! How long have we got left until Mumford & Sons start?”

Peroxide blonde girl: “Err, not long… 20 minutes – We better run!”

I heard the above exchange whilst battling my way out of the army of rusted metallic bracelets and crusty pleather jackets that were watching the Smashing Pumpkins at Glastonbury on Sunday. In my frenzied desperation to get away from the two peroxide idiots and towards Bobby Womack, I did something stupid. I barged past them, knocking Kelly’s tote bag to the floor.

“Sorry!” I shout, as I clumsily pick the fucker up and hand it back to its banana-haired owner. I’m about to turn away and run into Bobby’s sweet soul embrace over at West Holts, when my swivelling eyes catch sight of… Is that? No, surely not… wait, it is… it’s a fucking anarchist symbol! On her tote bag!

What in god’s name is Kelly-Jessica-Rabbit-who-shops-at-Topshop-and-goes-to-Michael-McIntyre-gigs doing wearing a tote bag with an anarchist symbol on it? Is she planning on overthrowing the state because the BBC has not provided enough Eastenders omnibuses this week? Are manicures now too sacred a humanitarian need to be subject to the whims of a political elite, obsessed by money and control? Is Mumford & Sons’ new album influenced by the work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon?

You can read the rest of article here.

CALMzine, Issue 10 – The Bond Identity

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The lovely folks and gals over at the Campaign Against Living Miserably have released their 10th issue, featuring a shed-load of male-oriented writing, pictures and even a free guitar signed by Enter Shikari. Oh – the quarterly magazine also features a double-spread article of mine on the character progression of James Bond through the years. Does 007 shape the culture of men, or does the culture of men shape 007?

You can flick through CALM’s 10th issue here. My article features on page 19.

Follow your dreams? Graduation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

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Here’s an article I cooked up for The Independent. It’s basically a thinly veiled admission that I can’t get a job. Enjoy. 

I always thought graduation was supposed to be party-time. The end of exams, the beginning of an exciting career, the completion of a child’s byzantine introduction to adulthood – and independence. As I sit here writing this, with a can of beer and the ready salted crisp sandwich that I’m unconvincingly calling ‘dinner’, it feels like anything but.

I don’t know why I ever thought it would be party-time. Maybe that’s just what I’d been told growing up? After all, children do tend to believe the things they are told.

This is why we often worry about the effects of reinforcing negative attitudes in our young. We always fear for sapping the belief out of our kids and limiting their ambition.

But what about the hidden menace of positive paternal rhetoric? ‘You can be anything you want to be’ and ‘you can do anything you want to do’ are psychological platitudes embedded in the psyche of the graduates of 2013. They were drilled into us during school assemblies, whispered into our ears as we drifted off to sleep and subliminally underpinned by the vapid slogans of the TV shows we innocently devoured.

Read the rest of the sordid affair here.

To #hashtag Or Not To #hashtag?

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Hashtags, split personalities and Ryan Gosling eating cereal. This is a strange one I concocted for the lovely lot over at CalmZone

Another day, another news feed. You are indulging in that especially unrewarding form of procrastination – mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook wall. Spurred on by a baffling belief that the next auto-refresh will bring something interesting, something new, you come across an unwelcome visitor.

“Friday night. Let the #banter commence! #jagerbantz”

The bile begins to rise.

A ‘friend’ cull really is in order, I think. This ain’t Twitter, there’s no hashtag functionality built into Mark Zuckerberg’s book of faces. Y’see, what you’ve done there is the social networking equivalent of bringing a banjo to a Dubstep rave. What’s wrong with you?

But, I’m sorry to say that this is not a rant. In fact, it’s an admission. A concession to the dark side…for there is a rapture in the heathen hashtag. I know, I know, allow me to explain.

The rest of the story/descent into madness can be found on the CALM website.

Tax avoidance: The battle lines have been drawn

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This article originally appeared on the TDDB blog, 03/04/2014. The Tax Dodgers Database website is now also live, you can check that out here

Yesterday, the Tax Dodgers Database website went live. The site is the culmination of two month’s worth of report dissection, specialist interviewing, corporate stonewalling and, of course, trance-like writing. Beginning the project as a self-confessed ‘tax prat’, it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys, and it’s certainly been a steep learning curve. The key thing we can take away from it all? The battle for the tax system is only just beginning.

Across the spectrum of organisations and people with a vested interest in the subject, you’ll be able to see armour being polished, weapons being serviced and alliances being made. Everyone in government believes something should be done, yet the politicians are split down the middle about what exactly that something should be. Economics and tax bloggers are sharpening their knives, waiting for the next big news release on the subject to pick apart and chastise, whilst activists and anti-avoidance campaigners are shouting louder than ever about the global inequality the existing system precipitates. The companies themselves appear anxious, as international pressure grows and public opinion turns against them they are beginning to realise that the decadent tax avoidance that many of their profit margins rely upon may soon be a thing of the past. Companies dependant upon high street revenues, especially, are becoming uneasy, floundering to protect their brands – as shown most clearly by Starbucks’ voluntary £20 million payment to HMRC at the book-end of 2012.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, appears to be taking a tough stance on the issue, and is set to oversee the inevitable introduction of a General Anti-Abuse Rule, aimed at putting an end to the game of cat and mouse that occurs every year between the tax necromancers working for multinational companies and HMRC. In addition to that, there’s the £4.6bn budget promise to clamp down on low-level tax avoidance, such as that made famous by the comic Jimmy Carr.

But GAAR is hardly the knight in shining armour that the treasury needs and there’s no guarantee its introduction will significantly push up tax revenues, whilst the £4.6 bn budget grandstanding will not get anywhere near to cutting into the thorny issue of offshore avoidance schemes. These are the schemes that really matter, the ones flaunted by the companies listed on our database, the ones that significantly dent the UK’s tax receipts.

On such schemes, George Osborne claims that “We are leading international action on tax avoidance, through our presidency of the G8, with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development) and at the G20.”

Whether this supposed captaincy of tax action actually materialises, we’ll have to wait and see. But the chancellor is correct in recognising that tax avoidance is a global issue and one that Britain can’t really eradicate on her own.

We can set the tone of the global debate on tax avoidance though. Campaigning on this issue is really starting to gain some traction, with economics expert Richard Murphy leading the charge amongst the tax-savvy avoidance crusaders, whilst organisations like UK Uncut and The Rules are taking a complex issue and putting it into the public consciousness with admirable vigour. A General Anti-Tax Avoidance Principle (a different and more effective form of the GAAR), tabled by the saintly Michael Meacher, is currently being debated in parliament, but looks unlikely to go anywhere as it is just too much too soon in terms of avoidance legislation.

The weeds of rebellion are creeping through the concrete slate of tax avoidance that has held fast and unquestioned for decades. A complex and dynamic issue has finally found itself in the spotlight of public debate. And as the battle lines are drawn, pro-corporate liberty on one side and anti-tax avoidance on the other, many major multinational companies must be frantically estimating which side will win – for the sake of their profits and futures, that is the only side they will join.

Rhye – ‘Woman’ review

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This article originally appeared on Turn On Tune In.

Heralded as the latest torch bearers of the horrendously named ‘Sophisti-Pop’ scene, Rhye live up to so much more on their full length debut, Woman. For this is music detached from any critical notion of ‘sophistication’, music that hasn’t a care to attach credence to certain realities; no, this is music that just exists as a vessel for sensual enjoyment.

The secretive project of two of the Electronic scene’s brightest composers, Rhye came about after Mark Milosh (vocalist/producer) re-located to LA and bumped into Robin Hannibal, the renowned producer who he’d worked with on the debut LP of Copenhagen’s slickest Electro-Soul export, Quadron. Having both become entangled in all-consuming romantic relationships in the Golden State, the duo decided to join forces once more and pay homage to all things lovey-dovey.

The final sonic product is not dissimilar to a grown-up child who still bears the chubby baby-face of their infancy – despite the meticulous production and lengthy recording process, Milosh and Hannibal still manage to retain their original vision of creating an LP drenched in the unabashed appreciation of a close relationship with a significant other.

From the first yearning strings of track one, ‘Open’, to the last faintly audible remnant of the 2:40 fade-out of the title track, this is an insatiable piece of work, constantly drinking in joy and constantly calling out to the universe for more. The aforementioned ‘Open’ is a gloriously welcoming handshake from the LP, gratified by an orchestral fade-in that kicks into a finger-clicking heartbeat. The combination and subtle interplay of these two elements – symphonic Jazz and relaxed R‘n’B – form the basis of all the good things that follow.

Track two, ‘The Fall’, is certainly one of those good things. It bursts into life with a fantastically simple rolling piano, pushed to cathartic heights by an intuitively timed piece of soothing slide guitar. Ethereal vocals overlay the instrumental honey, “Oooooo, make love to me/one more time/before you go”. It’s a rudimentary refrain but lays bare the only real conflict point to be found on the record; fear of loss. Amidst all the pervasive enjoyment of romance there’s a nagging anxiety in the lyrics and instrumental tension, a quiet trepidation that this paradisiacal life may end at some point.

It’s easy to forget that the vocals themselves are sung by Milosh, so effeminate is his style. The choral emasculation is heard most vividly during ‘Verse’, upon which Milosh finally allows his voice to take centre stage, shaping the track around his gorgeous vocal chords rather than using them as hypnotic backing instruments. The album proceeds sumptuously from here, from the religious undertones of ‘Shed Some Blood’ to the faux-futuristic 80’s tribute ‘3 Days’ (you can just imagine Ryan Gosling intently listening to this whilst driving through a dystopian cityscape), right through to the audible ambrosia of ‘Major Minor Love’.

But the true zenith is tucked away at the back of the record, as Rhye return to the handclaps and Bowie-esque stabs of sonic previously seen on ‘Last Dance’ during track 9, ‘Hunger’. A track with certified swagger, it’s the musical equivalent of a mulleted yuppie strutting down Hollywood Boulevard in the late evening sun. Definitely the catchiest song on the album, it builds to a glitchy climax straight out of the New York underground, all harmonised by the voluptuous invitation to “Hear the sounds/running through the ground.”

And that’s the crux of this record. Rhye have fashioned an LP that brims with appreciation for experiences, both sensual and visceral. Their music seeks to lift the listener above the mire of contemporary life, to look instead at the beauty of the world; and whilst at points the album runs too far away from reality and falls into the arms of quixotism, Woman is as good a lesson as you’re going to get in how to best deploy and maximise the senses. Forget the sophisti-crap and just enjoy it.

Pick up your copy of ‘Woman’ via Itunes