Airbnb tax arrangements

I wrote this sketch for Newsjack on the tax arrangements at Airbnb. They didn’t use it, so thought I’d pop it up here.

HOST:                   This week it emerged that Airbnb paid less than £200,000 in UK corporation tax last year, despite collecting over £600 million in rental payments for property owners. The digital economy’s great, isn’t it? You can use an Apple or Microsoft device to Google an Airbnb place and have an Amazon delivery waiting for you when you arrive. And all in the time it takes to close three schools and a hospital. But how would companies react if their customers tried using the same tactics?

FX:                              PHONE RINGS

JIM:                        Hello?

AIRBNB CALLER:   Good afternoon. I’m calling from Airbnb UK about the property you’ve registered with us. I believe you’re renting out 139a Blackfriars Road?

JIM:                        That’s right, great ratings too. We’re getting so many stars, the guy in the flat opposite has set up his own observatory! Though now I come to think about it, he might just be a pervert.

AIRBNB CALLER:   Well…quite. I’m ringing because we’re having some trouble with your account, and we’ve not been able to collect the Airbnb service charge. Are you able to settle up over the phone please?

JIM:                        Ah. Did you say you were calling from Airbnb UK?

AIRBNB CALLER:   That’s correct.

JIM:                        Well, there’s your problem. The flat is actually registered in Dublin.

AIRBNB CALLER:   I’m sorry? 139a Blackfriars Road. That’s in London, right?

JIM:                        Well yes and no. The address is a London address, but the flat is registered in Dublin for accounting purposes. Look, did you ever read the Narnia books as a kid?

AIRBNB CALLER:   No.

JIM:                        Exactly. It’s just like that. Outside the front door, it’s black cabs and red buses; inside it’s shamrocks and Guinness. Outside they’re playing Streets of London; inside it’s sweet, sweet Molly Malone.

AIRBNB CALLER:   This is ridiculous. I must ask you to please just settle your account.

JIM:                        I’m afraid I can only speak to Airbnb Ireland about this.

FX:                              PHONE CUTS OFF

FX:                              PHONE RINGS AGAIN

JIM:                        Hello?

AIRBNB CALLER:   [The same caller as before, doing a questionable Irish accent] Hello, this is Airbnb Ireland, calling to settle your account for flat 139a.

JIM:                        Ah. Well it’s not actually me you need to speak to.

AIRBNB CALLER:   [persisting with the accent] What? Aren’t you the registered owner?

JIM:                        Yes and no.

AIRBNB CALLER:   What?

JIM:                        My accountant recommended I split my personality into separate entities. Right now, you’re talking to cheeky, knockabout me, resident in London. But all my assets – including the flat – are controlled by my hard-headed businessman persona. He’s domiciled in Luxembourg.

AIRBNB CALLER:   [Giving up on the accent] Oh for Christ’s sake…

JIM:                        But none of us can do anything without consulting our controlling international playboy persona in the Cayman Islands. And good luck getting that guy off the beach at happy hour, know what I mean?

AIRBNB CALLER:   [Snapping] This is nonsense! You can’t pretend a building is in a different country or controlled by a different part of your own personality, just to avoid paying the money you owe!

JIM:                        [pause] Hmmm… Actually, that reminds me. While I’ve got you on the line, several of my personalities work for HMRC and as it happens, we’ve been trying to get in touch with someone at Airbnb for a while to discuss tax arrangem-… Hello? Hello?

FX:                              PHONE CUTS OFF

END

When Terri met Donny

This afternoon, Theresa May becomes the first world leader to meet Donald Trump. It feels horribly like Chamberlain meeting Hitler in 1938, but let’s be optimistic. Two people, seemingly complete opposites, forced together by circumstance. If nothing else, it has all the makings of a classic rom-com:

MUSIC:                    GENERIC ROM-COM TRAILER MUSIC

VOICEOVER:           She was a strait-laced English vicar’s daughter who’d stepped in to help her country. He was a loudmouthed American billionaire who’d barged in to help himself. When he asked her to meet in Washington, she thought: “summit’s up!”

TERRI:                       Actually, I find wordplay a bit frivolous…

VOICEOVER:           Terri was an ordinary woman, with an extraordinary dream.

ADVISOR:                 Prime Minister, how can you hope to make an advantageous trade deal with someone who says he’ll only ever think of American interests?

TERRI:                       There must be some part of him capable of pity. He spent 20 minutes with Michael Gove without vomiting!

VOICEOVER:           Donny was an extraordinary man, with some extraordinary habits.

DONNY:                    Come in, sit down, take a chair. No, don’t sit on the bed, it’s, ah… it’s been raining.

VOICEOVER:           Donny couldn’t stop lying.

DONNY:                    Terri, I’m the best truth-teller. When I tell the truth, people say it’s unbelievable, completely unbelievable.

VOICEOVER:           Terri couldn’t answer a straight question.

TERRI:                       As I keep saying: questions are questions and answers are answers and my answer will be the most appropriate answer to the question, when it is answered.

VOICEOVER:           So when Terri met Donny, there were always going to be fireworks.

TERRI:                       Yes, I’m sorry about that, the Ministry of Defence have promised next time they’ll point it the other way.

DONNY:                    I once said the exact same thing to a Miss World contestant.

VOICEOVER:           When Terri Met Donny is a story of two incompatible people with incompatible goals. Featuring what’s already being described as the most nauseating gross-out scene in movie history:

TERRI:                       I’m not faking a you-know-what. I’m sorry, I just won’t.

DONNY:                    You want this trade deal dontcha?

TERRI:                       I can’t do it in the restaurant!

DONNY:                    Think of England.

MUSIC:                    MUSIC STOPS

TERRI:                       Urgh… [Enunciating clearly] Em. Emhem. Emhemhemhem. Emhemhemhemhemhemhem. Oh my goodness. Goodness gracious me. Golly gosh, that really was exemplary. [Exasperated] Now will you please sign that trade deal.

DONNY:                    What trade deal?

MUSIC:                    MUSIC RESTARTS

VOICEOVER:           You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh to stop yourself from crying, then cry anyway. When Terri Met Donny, opens in Washington on Friday, rated R. I’m sorry, that’s rated “Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrggghhhh!!”

END

Family reunion

I wrote this a few months back, at the start of the summer, following a family reunion. It’s a bit soppier and more sentimental than the usual stuff I post on this site, in fact I don’t think there are any bum jokes in it at all. Usual service will be resumed soon.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t often think with any depth about the people and places that are important to me.

This weekend, my parents held a party for my mum’s 60th birthday. She’s the youngest of five siblings and the other four all made it from around the world for at least a day or two either side of the party, bringing assorted spouses, children and grandchildren along.

The party and the few days either side were a precious, unique window in the timeline of our extended family. Generations crossed one another for a few days, as many of my cohort turned up with toddlers and new babies in tow, while relatives into their 90s joined the party. It is very likely to be the only time that particular group of people will ever assemble in the same room.

Two-year-olds who had never previously met chased one another round and round the house, ducking between grownups’ legs, squabbling over toys and rolling about on the floor at the sheer joy of each others’ company. Above their heads, my parents’ generation sketched out family trees and swapped notes on long-dead ancestors. As the generation above them has thinned out, the sixty-somethings all seem to have become fascinated by their family history. I’m sure I will become interested too, if I live long enough to become part of the apex generation.

It was strangely bittersweet to watch the passage of time affecting the people and places that are important to me. Swapping notes on parenting with slightly-older cousins who once seemed impossibly grown up. Seeing self-assured people showing signs of frailty. Being reminded that even ever-present, larger-than-life characters are mortal too. Of course I’ve always known that fact, it is an obvious thing to say, but I’ve been very lucky never to lose anyone close to me before their time. In fact, very few of my parents’ generation show any signs of slowing down. It’s the scarcity of these times when we can meet all together that makes me wonder what state we will all be in when the next one rolls around.

My generation – the bright-eyed kids who squabbled over possession of the sandpit in my parents’ garden – now have our share of grey hairs, bald heads and character lines. As we grew up, the sandpit became a fire-pit, around which our teenaged selves drank beer and told rude jokes thinking we were out of earshot of the grownups. This weekend we considered getting some wood in for the fire-pit, but realised that most of the former tearaways would now be inside for much of the evening, putting kids to bed. And my parents’ generation, now responsibility-free, feel the chill too much to sit round an outdoor fire. Some time this summer, the fire-pit will turn back into a sandpit for the grandchildren.

My parents have done a lot of work on the family home in recent years. They’ve extended, they’ve redecorated and they’ve replaced almost all the fixtures and furniture. Time has changed the place as well as the people, it is no longer really the house I grew up in. Apart from the shape of most of the walls, little remains the same from childhood photos. But that’s not to criticise. It’s much nicer now that the carpets aren’t threadbare and the stuffing isn’t belching from the arms of the third-hand sofa. My old home is now a place where new memories are being built. The place I hope my children will remember with fondness. Grandma and granddad’s house.

The evening of the party, when it was mostly just family left, the singing started. My mum, her brother and her three sisters stood together singing Irish and Scottish folk songs their dad had taught them. The previous time they’d all met together and sung like that had been at his funeral. Now, though, it was joyous.

The party eventually broke up and family members returned home over the next few days. As they left, they all said things like “We must do this again soon” and “We can’t let the next time we meet like this be a funeral”. My mum said they’d like to have another party like this in five years. My dad said it’d be better in two, he couldn’t be sure they’d all have the energy again in five. I hope they do both.

Tour de France to be ‘livened up’ with weapons

Tour de France organisers are set to spice up next year’s race by allowing riders a choice of medieval weaponry.

Defending champion Chris Froome has reportedly already selected a jousting lance, while his rivals Nairo Quintana and Adam Yates have chosen a spiked mace and a Mongolian horsebow respectively.

Pierre Velo of the Tour’s organising committee explained: “Our current audience is mostly hardcore cycling fans, and we want to expand our reach.

“Market research shows that the most popular clips of the race are those with crashes and serious injuries, so by allowing riders these tools of death we’re just delivering what the public want.”

A spokesman for Team Wingèd Vengeance (formerly Team Sky) said: “Riders know that it’s a dangerous sport, and they come into the Tour knowing they risk serious injury.

“That risk has increased somewhat, with the added element of a bloody wheel-to-wheel deathmatch, but our riders are determined to rise to the challenge and slaughter the opposition without mercy.”

Monsieur Velo said that the new rules were partly aimed at combating the scourge of drugs in cycling:

“At the moment, spectators are taking vast amounts of drugs just to try and make the race seem interesting.

“It’s 200 identical men riding identical bikes around for five hours every day for weeks on end. No-one can possibly watch that without being off their tétons.

“Arming the riders with lethal weaponry will bring back a sense of wholesome fun to the Tour, without the need for chemical enhancement.”

If the addition of weapons to the Tour are successful, Formula One is considering a similar rule change next season, aimed at bringing motorsport to the Mario Kart generation.

Smith and Eagle to form “Smeagle” alliance

Former Labour leadership candidate Angela Eagle has announced she is to join forces with Owen Smith and campaign together under the name ‘Smeagle’.

Political analyst Andrew Marragorn said: “It’s an epic tale.

“Smeagle is driven by a burning desire to retrieve the Labour leadership, which has accidentally ended up in the hands of a mild-mannered hobbit called Bilbo Corbins.

“Corbins is one of the little people – he was never supposed to wield power like this, and he doesn’t know how to control it.

At a press conference, Eagle said: “As Smeagle, we will retain two distinct voices. Owen will frolic around gaining people’s trust, being suspiciously friendly and telling everyone what they want to hear.

“I will sneak around in the darkness, doing underhand things like registering campaign websites several days before I regretfully resign on principle.”

Eagle then hissed at the four journalists who had actually turned up, before crouching on the floor, eating a fish and muttering “fifth collum, collum, collum”.

Smith and Eagle hope to unite the centre and right wings of the Labour party under the slogan “One wing to rule them all”, while protecting the leadership from both the Dark Lord Blairon and the bloodthirsty creatures of Mor-mentum.

Should Smeagle’s campaign to unseat Corbins prove unsuccessful, a concession speech is already believed to have been drafted:

“The precious! The Corbins stole it from us! Thief! Thief! We hates it forever!!!”

The Trident debate: a brief introduction to the nuclear deterrent

Nuclear weapons have a unique ability to divide people. Specifically, they have the ability to divide people into lots of much-smaller bits of people. And when it comes to the renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons systems, opinion is split much the same way as the atom was first split a century ago – violently, recklessly, and with no-one really thinking too hard about the consequences.

In Westminster, the Conservatives and a significant proportion of the Labour party have voted in favour of replacing the submarines that carry the UK’s Trident nukes, arguing that giving up our weapons would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight. The SNP, Plaid Cwmry and the remainder of the Labour party, including Jeremy Corbyn, oppose renewing the nuclear subs. They say that keeping nukes is more like bringing a tiger to a gunfight. Expensive, unnecessary, and guaranteed to end up with everybody dead.

Corbyn has even said that if he were Prime Minister he would never use nukes, even in self-defence. This makes some sense – the only time he might use them would be if we were all effectively dead anyway – but it slightly undermines the concept of a deterrent. It’d be like telling a naughty child “If you don’t behave right now, I swear I will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

Renewing Trident could now cost anything from 40bn to £205bn – campaigners say this money could pay for 120 hospitals and 150,000 new nurses, or 1.5m affordable homes. Alternatively, if we wanted a genuine deterrent to foreign powers, we could spend the money on a magnificent 800-metre high golden statue of a nude and priapic Michael Gove to stand proudly on the white cliffs of Dover.

Cost has been an issue from the beginning of the British nuclear programme. In the early 1950s, rationing was still in effect in the UK, and some questioned how we could justify spending vast sums of public money on doomsday weapons we never intended to use, at a time when citizens were queuing in the streets for food. Of course, everything is completely different today.

Safety of nuclear weapons is another concern, after decades of fires, crashes and dropped clangers. Barely a week seems to have gone by in the 1950s without some hapless GI wheeling a city-incinerating missile to a plane while whistling the Laurel and Hardy theme tune in giddy anticipation of some top-notch slapstick.

In the early days, the computers controlling global nuclear stockpiles had slightly less processing power than a modern-day electric toothbrush. Likewise, the soldiers guarding the warheads also seem to have had slightly less common sense than a modern-day electric toothbrush.

The UK no longer conducts nuclear testing, after controversial early British nuclear experiments in Australia threw up large amounts of radioactive dust. This was the only time in history that Australians were ever unhappy after welcoming a team of Englishmen for a series of tests and getting to keep the ashes afterwards.

Today, the UK’s nuclear threat is submarine-based, making it hard for enemies to detect or target our weapons. In fact, they are so difficult to detect that in 2009 a British nuclear-armed submarine crashed into a French one in the middle of the Atlantic. The government described this as an isolated incident and, to be fair, you can’t get much more isolated than floating around in the middle of an empty ocean and still managing to crash into something else that’s also carrying nuclear warheads.

Despite incidents like this, the navy are seen as reliable custodians for our nuclear arsenal. Because if we must amass world-destroying weapons, who could be better emotionally suited to control them than someone trapped for months in a claustrophobic tin can, traversing a hostile environment without contact from the outside world? What could possibly go wrong?

Bringing us back to the present, the main purpose of today’s vote was not really about a debate. It was about embarrassing an unstable Labour party on the verge of meltdown.

The Conservatives are taking a leaf out of Ernest Rutherford’s book from a century ago. By firing a stream of charged emotions at a wafer-thin sheet of consensus, they hope to successfully split the Labour party. The chain reaction could drastically alter the political environment, and the poisonous fallout could take years to clean up.

Young people investigate possibility of rejoining EU ‘when all the old bastards are dead’

People under 40, who overwhelmingly supported remaining in the EU, are today looking into the possibility of rejoining Europe ‘once all the old bastards are dead’.

Younger voters were much less likely to vote Leave, meaning they now face an isolated future they rejected, chosen for them by angry, frightened older people who won’t be around to see it.

Young person, Chantelle Wilkins (19), said: “It’s, like, totally unfair, y’know?”

“We already know what old people think about people from ethnic minorities. It’s why my boyfriend will never meet my grandma.

“Old people have given us a future we don’t want, but they’ll be long gone before Andrea Leadsom has even opened her first concentration camp.

“We’re going to have to wait ‘til the old people are all dead, then have a word with the EU to see if they’d take us back.”

Ms Wilkins added: “Honestly, it makes me wish I’d got round to actually voting. Only it was wet outside and I didn’t have the right shoes, and I wanted to watch Love Island to see who got tossed off. Tossed off the show, I mean! Hahahaha! Ha?”

Gleeful old bastard Ernest Grumbler (87) said: “This result is bloomin’ marvellous.

“I was fed up seeing all these young, happy types enjoying freedom of movement while I can’t bend down to tie my shoelaces.

“Then there’s all the foreigners, they’ve either got too many vowels in their names or not enough. It was time to do something about them.

“Now I intend to hang around a couple more years and enjoy watching everything go properly to shit, then I’ll die just before they send all my care workers back to Poland.

“I’m just happy I’ve finally got my country back. Though I’ve already put it down somewhere and can’t remember where I left it.”

Biblical prophecy ‘predicted rise of Leadsom’

A prophecy found in a medieval English Bible appears to have predicted the rise of Andrea Leadsom to Prime Minister.

The section, inserted in between several particularly gruesome bits of smiting reads:

“3 And lo! From obscurity shall a LEADER emerge, and her name shall be LEAD-SOME.

“4 She will be the anointed one, chosen by the aged and the homophobic from the Wells of Tunbridge to lead her people to freedom from the slavery of EUROPE.”

“5 And the WAVES shall part, and she shall lead her people across the Atlantic to a promised land of low wages, tax avoidance and Christian dogma.

“6 Oh, and foxhunting, for some reason.

“7 And there shall be slapping of foreheads and a time of great facepalming in the land.”

Bible scholars have expressed scepticism over the find. Reverend Ben Bland said: “It seems like a crock frankly.

“Even six months ago, imagine suggesting that by the end of 2016 we’d be leaving Europe, steered by the safe hands of Prime Minister Andrea Bloody Leadsom. It would have been laughable.

“And someone supposedly predicted it centuries back? I’m not having it.

“I mean, Leadsom could have her nasty, judgemental finger pointed at the nuclear button by autumn. The Good Lord’s taken his eye off the ball, frankly.”

The controversial passage goes on to talk about seven seals opening and some horsemen appearing, but it’s probably nothing to worry about.

Blair ‘tried everything to avoid war, except not doing a war’

Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has defended his old boss against accusations of warmongering.

Mr Campbell said: “I was one of the few people who saw the process of his making the decision close up…

“Far from seeing someone hellbent on war, I saw someone doing all he could to avoid it.”

Speaking through a spirit medium, the restless souls of a million dead Iraqis issued a response:

“We note with interest Mr Campbell’s suggestion that Mr Blair tried everything to avoid war.

“Did he at any point consider just not doing a war?

“The leaders of France, Denmark, New Zealand and Bhutan, for example, managed to avoid war by not doing a war.

“Even Germany managed to not do a war, and that’s not always a given, historically speaking.

“As his close advisor, did you ever think to say ‘We could always just not do a war, Tony’?

“What? Oh. Wooooooooo!!!”

Mr Campbell did not respond to the terrifying moans of the unavenged dead.

A source close to the former spin doctor said: “Alastair has managed to shut out the screams of dead Iraqis from his every haunted dream these last 13 years.

“He’s not about to start listening to them now.”