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LYNNE FEATHERSTONE: The dark wizard has fallen under a spell

PUBLISHED: 08:56 24 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:43 07 September 2010

Once upon a time – neither long ago nor far away – it was Christmas and the snow was falling gently on to the Cold Stone Palace by the Great River. The Dark Wizard, who had finally ascended the ruling throne after 10 long years of waiting and brooding, f

Once upon a time - neither long ago nor far away - it was Christmas and the snow was falling gently on to the Cold Stone Palace by the Great River.

The Dark Wizard, who had finally ascended the ruling throne after 10 long years of waiting and brooding, found that the people did not love him as he thought they ought. He was ridiculed and pilloried and people laughed behind his back.

Now in the land of the Cold Stone Palace there lived a soothsayer - one of the golden elves with magic dancing feet from a smaller tribe. The soothsayer foretold of a debt bubble that would burst. He told of the need for the Dark Wizard to enter the fortress of doom and take the money-hoarders. For it was their greed and avarice that had scarred not only this land but many lands. And when the Golden Soothsayer spake the people listened - for the Golden Soothsayer knew the future.

At the same time, there lived another tribe, led by the not so noble Blue Pretender. Now the blue tribe had been very happy when the Dark Wizard was being made fun of - but as the country sank into the slough of despond and the people were hungry and cold they began to ask more and more of the Blue Pretender, what his answers were. He was very eloquent and often said what he thought people wanted to hear - but in this time of great trouble and darkness the people were scared.

And so they looked to the Dark Wizard because for all his faults, before he ascended the throne he had been the Chief Money Wizard and knew all the Money Wizards in every land and across the seas. And he was dour and gloomy and brooding and in such troubled times he seemed to offer a solidity which made the not-so- noble Blue Pretender seem shallow and hollow.

As the skies darkened and the icy blasts from the sub-prime land across the great water blew into this once happy land, the Dark Wizard took the Golden Soothsayer's advice and entered the money-hoarders fortresses and took them over. Then he blew his magic horn and the Princes, Kings and Great Wizards from every land came together for the Great Discussion. And they all agreed that the Dark Wizard's (but really the Golden Soothsayer's) ideas were right. They would take the peoples' gold and they would give it to the money-hoarders but the money-hoarders had to promise to then give it in turn to the people so that they could carry on their businesses and pay for their homes - and so the wheels of life would begin to turn again.

And the Dark Wizard was hailed as a great and wonderful wizard by all, except for a Witch who hailed from the Deutscheslands. Whilst the rest of the rulers realised that they needed to act as one - only she failed the Test of Ruling by agreeing with them whilst at the Great Discussion but secretly laying plans to undermine and attack the Dark Wizard.

The Dark Wizard returned and told the red, gold and blue elves who were gathered in the Cold Stone Palace that he had saved the world. A wave of shock ran through the Cold Stone Palace as they realised that the Dark Wizard had fallen under the Spell of Grand Delusion, that often fell upon leaders during their reign - and it was difficult to break.

With no food and no work and no heat - and with a ruler under such a spell - the people turned to the Golden Soothsayer to ask what the future would hold. And the Soothsayer told them of a long and difficult road ahead and warned that they should not heed the Dark Wizard any longer as his delusional state would guide them ill. And the people begged the Golden Soothsayer and his leader the Golden (and very handsome) Prince to take over the ruling of the country and save them from the hardships ahead.

Alas and alack, despite the wishes of the people - the ancient magic and law of the land dictated that only the Dark Wizard could name the time of the Great Choosing - and as he believed he and he alone had saved the world - he refused.

So the people took the future into their own hands. They stopped giving gold to the Dark Wizard and they built new, local and small money-hoarding halls who did help the people and lend them money. And the wheels of their lives began to be put back together. And the people also stopped thinking only about themselves.

Those that still had work and a roof over their heads helped those who had fallen on harder times. And the people helped each other and whilst the Dark Wizard sat rocking back and forth all alone on his stone throne - the people held hands and shared the warmth of love and human kindness.

And I'm the Christmas Fairy!

Lynne Featherstone is the Lib Dem MP for Hornsey & Wood Greenouncils around the country set their council tax for the next financial year, which starts in April. They would do well to remember Coolidge's words as they do so.

Since 1997, the average annual council tax bill has almost doubled. The story is the same here in Camden - Band D council tax is already over £1,000 with another £300 for the Mayor's precept.

This may not sound like very much to some people. But to pensioners with limited savings or families struggling to make ends meet, it is often an expense they can't afford.

Because council tax takes no real account of ability to pay, it bears down most heavily on those least able to afford it.

For people struggling on lower incomes, council tax eats into scarce resources that would otherwise be used to heat the home or buy new shoes. Given the current economic situation, it is more important than ever to put money back in people's pockets. Those in public office have a more pressing duty than ever to make sure that not a penny of the public's money is wasted.

Camden Council, like any arm of government, therefore has a special responsibility to make sure that it taxes as lightly as possible. Does it do so? Efficiency savings have been made in recent years, enabling the council tax to be frozen in 2007-08 and increased by only 2.5 per cent in 2008-09. But I'm not sure this is good enough.

Camden still sets the highest council tax in inner London. Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Lambeth and Westminster are all able to set lower council tax than Camden - and some of these boroughs have higher social deprivation than we do.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has already led the way this year with a freeze in the Mayor's precept, after large increases under the previous Mayor.

Conservative-controlled Hammersmith will cut council tax by 3 per cent for the third year in succession, and at the same time it has actually increased resident satisfaction with services. This shows it can be done!

So is there scope for savings in Camden, which can then be passed on to residents struggling in this economic climate? I believe there is.

Here is a simple example. Camden spends nearly twice the London average on "publicity" and "marketing." Cutting back to the average would help fund a council tax freeze, handing back almost £2.0million to local taxpayers. Would you rather see this money spent on advertising and PR, or given back to some of the poorest people in Camden?

Here's another example. Camden Council recently had an unexpected £15million income windfall. Instead of handing some of this back to the public, they decided to spend it all.

The full council was not given the chance to vote on this, but if it did, I would have voted against spending all the money. Many of the projects receiving money are worthy, but some of this cash should have been given back to our hard-pressed residents.

Another madcap scheme recently proposed was to spend half a million pounds on a re-vamp for the council chamber. I'm glad that we seem to have been able to scupper this idea already.

Of course, taxes are needed for vital services and to protect the vulnerable. But as councils and governments come to consider the level of taxation, there is a fundamental question they must answer: where there is a choice, who would they rather spend our money - the government, or individual members of society who have worked hard to earn it? Myself, I trust people to spend their money better than governments and councils.

I am therefore lobbying hard to freeze Camden's council tax next year to help some of our hardest-pressed fellow-citizens.

At this difficult time, they need this help more than ever. I rather suspect President Coolidge would agree.

Chris Philp is a local councillor and campaigner,

and the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn


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