Friday, 21 December 2012

Who’s Afraid of Father Christmas?

[Sir Reginald Pratt, one of the most celebrated entrepreneurs and philanthropists in the world, and widely known to his friends in the City as ‘Father Christmas’, has once again agreed to be interviewed by ‘Question the Powerful’. When we met, he had recently returned from abroad.]

Q: You’ve been away for nearly six months. Have you missed Britain?

R: Terribly. I can’t tell you what it’s like not being able to look in on my estates or catch up with old friends in the City. But the tax system here is dreadful. It leaves me no choice but to spend a lot of time in my other homes around the world.

Q: What kind of changes to the tax regime might entice you back to these shores?

R: Funny you should say that. I was just talking to young Osborne the other day about it. Basically, the scale of tax rates should be reversed. So the more you earn, the lower % you pay.

Q: You mean anything above, for example, £150,000 should be taxed at a lower rate than 20%?

R: No, no, at each higher threshold, the tax rate for your entire income should be reduced. I would say that once you’ve reached an annual income of, say, £1 million, you shouldn’t pay any tax at all.

Q: You’re serious about this?

R: Don’t you see, it would be a splendid incentive for people to earn more money for themselves. And people on low income paying high taxes would only have themselves to blame. Osborne loved the idea, wished he had thought of it himself, but poor chap, hasn’t quite got it up there.

Q: Wouldn’t that impoverish the state? Who would pay for our public services?

R: Well, that’s where Britain is showing some signs of improvement. You let brilliant entrepreneurs like us keep our money, the state has to cut back on everything, and before you know it, 90% or more of the population will be without proper healthcare, job security, not even basic fire or policing service. They would be completely dependent on the charity of the rich. Then finally they would learn to respect us, defer to our better judgement, and learn to do as they’re told.

Q: You think charity will be sufficient to help all the sick and feed those going hungry?

R: That’s not the point of charity. Charity is about feelings. For the riffraff, it’s that desperate feeling in hoping that some kind soul might rescue you. For us benefactors, it is a noble feeling in sensing that we can do something for these wretched people.

Q: But don’t you think more people would suffer when we displace public support by private charity?

R: ‘Suffer’ is a relative term. The real problem is that people don’t appreciate they have it so good. They should learn to complain a little less, and be thankful for what we let them have a little more.

Q: And what are you letting them have once you stop paying your taxes altogether?

R: Charity, my dear fellow, gifts freely given. Talking of which I must be off - got to go to an event in some inner London borough where there are lots of poor people. My office elves are coming along with me to give out the best present they will ever have.

Q: Blankets, food parcels, a job with one of your companies?

R: Better than all those combined – they will each get a signed copy of my autobiography, Who’s Afraid of Father Christmas? A wonderful book about how I’ve always managed to persuade the regulators not to fret about my business activities. It really is quite an unbelievable story.

[For observations between QTP posts, go to my Twitter account (@HenryBTam) and click ‘Follow’.
For our interview with ‘Father Christmas’ last year, see:]

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tune into UN 194: the Sound of a Beautiful Resistance

Last month the UN voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as the world’s 194th state. By an apt coincidence it was UN Resolution 194 (passed in 1948) that recognized the rights of Palestinian people to return to their homes after they were forcibly removed to make way for what would then be converted into the state of Israel. But 64 years on, they have not been allowed to return.

Many Israelis empathise with the plight of the Palestinians. They understand all too well what it means for a people to be told at gunpoint to leave their homes, and transported to camps to which they would be confined to their dying days. But their voices are blocked out by others who are oblivious to the cruel irony of telling Palestinians to put up with being permanently expelled from where they had lived all their lives.

In the face of such intransigence, what can Palestinian people do? What the media focus on is invariably where anger, frustration, resentment have reached boiling point and erupted in violence. Such violence then fuels stories about Palestinian threats and attacks on Israelis, serving as the backdrop for Israel’s military operations. For example, between 2000 and 2012, the media reported over 1,000 Israelis killed by Palestinians (during that time, 6,600+ Palestinians were killed by Israelis; see:

Tragically, the taking of innocent lives can only lead to a spiral of bloodshed. It is therefore all the more remarkable to find in this seemingly hopeless situation a path to what has been fittingly called acts of ‘Beautiful Resistance’. In 1998 Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour set up the Alrowwad Cultural & Theatre Society ( to give young people in the Palestinian Aida Camp a chance to express themselves through the non-violent channels of art and drama.

Young people are not told to ignore the injustice that daily confronts them. Instead, they are guided to reflect on and show their feelings through a variety of aesthetic activities: dancing, taking photographs, and acting in plays. Neither they nor the outside world should forget what has happened to them, but there is no need for guns or explosives to remind people of what had gone wrong. In place of the counter-productive outbursts of violence, which would only beget more injuries and deaths, political energy is poured into a potent form of resistance.

You probably won’t hear about it in the mainstream media, but in March 2013, Alrowwad will be celebrating their 15th anniversary. They have kept going with the help of volunteers and donations. And they need help to carry their work forward.

This Christmas when ‘Bethlehem’ is whispered along with a gentle soundtrack, think not just of one child being born away from home, but of thousands – born, growing up, stranded in camps remote from the homes of their parents and grandparents.

To find out how you can support the Beautiful Resistance, go to:
Friends of Al-Rowwad (US):;
Friends of Alrowwad (UK):; or
Société des amis d’Alrowwad (France):

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

As Christmas approaches, the contrast between luxurious display and bleak poverty intensifies ever more.

Could things be otherwise? At this time of year, there is no shortage of dramatic imagination to show up possible alternative endings to human misery. In one or another version of ‘A Christmas Carol’, you will see that if only selfish people like Ebeneezer Scrooge became kind and generous, all would be well. And if you tune in to the inevitable screening of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, you will find that George Bailey should just keep faith in the goodness of other folks, who would inevitably come to the rescue of the less fortunate.

Are these the best stories we can tell? What about the systemic inequality that concentrates power in a small elite, enabling them to exploit the rest, leaving those at the bottom of the pile crushed and humiliated? Why can’t we draw on tales that will show up the real causes of suffering in society, and what changes are actually necessary beyond the fluff of feel-good movies?

This Christmas please help spread the word about a dark fable that is has been acclaimed as “an unmissable page-turner” (President, the Independent Publishers Guild); “original, engaging … [with an ending that is] astonishing” (Fantasy Book Review); and “a tour de force … full of plot surprises and layers of deeper meaning” (Director of Education, WEA). Kuan’s Wonderland is a novel that takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride of suspense and surreal adventure, and at the same time paints a vivid picture of what lies beneath the unjust and callous treatment of the vulnerable in society.

Kuan’s Wonderland has been selected for inclusion by the Equality Trust (see their review: in an Equality Education Project it will be taking forward in 2013. I am working with the Trust to produce learning resources to aid discussion amongst readers and teachers about its ideas, allusions and relevance to contemporary politics.

The novel can currently be downloaded as an e-book from Amazon for just £0.77 (but there will be no charge at all during the limited period of 7-11 December). If you do not have a Kindle, you can get a free app from Amazon to enable you to download the book to your iPad, laptop, desktop, or just about any type of computer device.

If you’re in the UK, go to:

If you’re in the US, go to:

[Feedback from readers would be of great help to me in developing the learning resources for schools. If you would like to be involved or find out more about this equality education project, you can contact Henry Tam, Cambridge University at:]