Peter Rhodes on U-turns, seat belts and Putin's shrinking empire

My building society emails excitedly the “good news” that its saving rate has risen from 1.1 to a dizzying 1.3 per cent. If that's the good news, you wouldn't want the bad news.

Why no clunk-click?
Why no clunk-click?

An old gambit in public finance is, if you want to sting the citizenry for an extra £20 on the council tax, first float the idea that you're thinking of a £40 hike. Then, when you finally announce it's £20, your news is greeted with gratitude.

It makes me wonder whether Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were ever serious about scrapping the top rate of 45p in the pound income tax. Was it merely floated as something that could be easily scrapped, while distracting attention from some of the other nasties in the mini-budget? Probably not. Such a ruse would require enormous brains, political savvy and loads of forethought. You see the problem?

In a world numbed by endless statistics and overwhelmed with surveys, some figures still have the power to shock, Take the Department for Transport's report that almost a third of people killed in road crashes last year were not wearing a seat belt. For night-time crashes the toll rises to a shocking 47 per cent. After all the seat-belt warnings over so many years, this is madness piled upon madness. How many road deaths listed by coroners as “accidental” could almost be defined as suicide?

I'd like to think we'd be equally shocked by another new set of official statistics. These are the ones telling us that about 500 serious offences a year, including murder and rape, are committed by people freed from prison on probation, having been judged as low or medium risk. No shock here, just weary resignation at a system that lets us down, time after time.

Even as Putin declares Russian ownership of swathes of Ukraine, the Ukrainian army is liberating parts of that territory. The more Putin dreams of a mighty empire, the smaller the reality becomes.

I am reminded of the WW2 story of a German guard boasting to a group of British prisoners-of-war that: “When this war is over it is my ambition to tour the German Empire on my bicycle.” “Really?” replied one of the Tommies. “And what will you do in the afternoon?”

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