Diary: Chancellor in ungodly row over stealth tax on churches

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The Independent Online

Amid the furore about the granny tax, the tax breaks for the rich, and VAT on pasties the church tax concealed in George Osborne's Budget has been rather overlooked.

The Chancellor has slapped VAT at 20 per cent on alterations to listed buildings, a large proportion of which are old churches. To take one example, Shrewsbury Abbey – 925 years old this year – is raising money to restore the church organ, which was going to cost £400,000 but will now cost £480,000.

That is mild compared with the way tax will hit Wakefield Cathedral which is due for expensive restoration work, the cost of which has now jumped by at least £200,000.

Osborne's reasoning was that there is a perverse incentive in the system he is abolishing, because repairs and maintenance on listed buildings attract VAT but alterations do not, giving those who look after these buildings cause to alter rather than repair and maintain them. EU law does not allow the Chancellor to makes repairs VAT zero-rated, so he decided to extend VAT where it did not apply before.

His argument has not impressed the Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Rev Stephen Platten, who says the tax hike is "nothing short of crazy". The vicar of Shrewsbury Abbey, the Rev Paul Firmin, has called it "short sighted in the extreme and seemingly yet another anti-church and anti-Christian step".

An e-petition on the Government website protesting against the tax has drawn over 1,500 signatures so far.

A rum turn for former spin doctor

The former Downing Street spin doctor Damian McBride vanished from sight after he was caught sending an email on his office computer that no one on the public payroll had any business sending. But yesterday he put his head over the rampart to offer a bottle of champagne to the first user of Twitter to say correctly what the 10-year-old David Cameron was doing 35 years ago. The winning entry was: "Watching Red Rum at the Canal Turn, Aintree."

Mensch's Lenten resolve falters

"Am giving up for Lent; chocolate, alcohol, & tweeting. Will read but not reply. See you all after Easter!," the Tory MP Louise Mensch tweeted on 22 February. Yet those who wondered how they would cope without the daily thoughts of Mrs Mensch need not have despaired. Since that day, she has offered 47 tweets of her own and retweeted messages by others on more than 230 occasions.

Wonder how she has managed with the chocs and booze.

Island life – a cause worth fighting for?

So much was said yesterday about the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War that you might think the islands are home to a nation.

In yesterday's Penguin News, there is a description of life in Port Stanley by an old resident, John Fowler, who was there when the Argentinians arrived. "Had there been any dogs in the street to bark, they would immediately have been arrested for a breach of the peace," he wrote. "On any normal day the whole town was blanketed in the kind of solid calm only found these days on Sunday afternoon in the smaller islands to the west of Scotland. To say that Stanley was a sleepy little place is to verge on hyperbole..."

Seldom in human history has so much aggravation been caused by a place inhabited by so few.

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