The past week has been weird. I have been having flashbacks. These aren’t exciting trippy multicoloured flashbacks. But ones featuring former B-listers set to a whiny soundtrack.
For no sooner had the chancellor Alistair Darling announced his plan to raise the top rate of tax to 50p, than I was transported back to an era when celebrities, or to be more accurate, people who did things on television, threatened to leave the country if a Labour government got in. At the helm of this campaign was magician Paul Daniels, who I’ve always found irritating. Did he go? Did he heck. Just ask the booking office at Somerset’s Frome Memorial Theatre.
Last weekend the actor Sir Michael Caine invoked the spirit of the moany magician when he said the chancellor’s announcement had prompted him to consider moving back to America where he lived during the 1970s and 1980s as a tax exile.
He explained: “We’ve got three and a half million layabouts laying about on benefits and I’m 76 getting up at six o’clock in the morning to go to work to keep them.” Who knew that the actor, reported to be worth £45m, was motivated to keep working by such a high calling as feeding the feckless?
It wasn’t just Sir Michael who spoke out about the tax proposals. Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose position as number two on the Sunday Times Rich List’s top-earning musicians is unchanged from last year, as is his personal fortune of £750m, declared: “The last thing we need is a Somali pirate-style raid on the few wealth creators who still dare to navigate Britain’s gale-force waters.”
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager who also has a masters in economics, suggested a number of elite foreign footballers would shun the premier league over the Budget tax announcement. It might be true for Ronaldo, but he fails to appreciate that the tier below the superstars – let us call them plain old highly paid football stars – can pick up bigger salaries over here than they might elsewhere.
We have been here before, of course. Last year there was a furore about the so-called talent exodus over changes to the status of non-domiciles; yet this argument had a starrier precursor in 1997.
Then such luminaries, or celebra-Tories, as “comedian” Jim Davidson, boxer Frank Bruno and snooker player Stephen Hendry, joined Mr Daniels in the threat to leave their home country if Labour was elected.
They all stayed put; except for one: Jim Davidson. In 2004 he moved to the tax haven of Dubai. Two years later he was declared bankrupt.
If overpaid celebrities are intent on whining, they could always swap Britain for Mexico. The country could do with some intrepid explorers to brave the country as tourists stay away.
It is not just miserable honeymooners who have abandoned their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Sandals resorts in Cancun. Spare a thought for the Victoria and Albert museum. It too has been forced to ditch a competition to highlight its Baroque exhibition. The first prize, you guessed it, a holiday for two, all expenses paid, to Mexico City. Second prize? I’ll leave the punchline to Jim Davidson.
One man’s disaster is another’s business opportunity. So swine flu is proving to be a boom time for makers of face masks. In fact, they are so in demand that pharmacists are going for the next best thing: dust masks, more commonly worn by carpenters and builders.
Alan Miller, customer services manager at Fortuna Healthcare, which makes masks and walking sticks, “is slightly surprised” after being deluged by chemists desperately phoning round suppliers for swine flu accessories. Now that they have sold out of face masks customers are snapping up dust masks. Typically they sell about 550 a month. But yesterday he expected to have sold 2,000 in one day. At current demand, he will have sold out of dust masks too by Tuesday. Swine flu anxiety is, he says, also fuelling demand for surgical gloves.
Could swine flu trigger a resurgence in sales at DIY stores? My query met with a rather stony faced reply from B&Q: “The dust masks [we sell] are for use when carrying out a DIY project such as sawing, sanding or spraying and should not be used for any other purpose.”
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