Thursday, November 26, 2015


George Osborne was definitely tending to the self-satisfied for most of the Autumn Statement yesterday - no mean feat, given the back-pedalling at its heart. But he was rarely smugger than when he announced what he thought was a really clever wheeze.

The VAT rate charged on sanitary products is 5% - the lowest permitted under European law. The UK Government is currently lobbying the EU to allow them to exempt sanitary products altogether (and apparently with some chance of success). At the moment, however, this is a tax that the Government wants to get rid of, but can't.

One of the key points of 'unfairness' that is raised against the tax as it stands is that it applies uniquely to women. When the Treasury dropped the rate from standard to reduced back in 2000, one of the questions asked was whether there were any products that only men would ever buy. Inventive mandarins eventually came up with beard trimmers and circumcision knives - neither of which really amount to the same thing. So, you have a tax raised (effectively uniquely) entirely from women,

Wouldn't it be a nice gesture, thought Osborne, if this money, which is there in the general funds, could be spent specifically on women, just as it is raised specifically by women? An additional £15m for women's charities, so that at least this unwelcome tax is going to a good cause. It seems rather a neat solution.

No. Of course not. Everyone went nuts instead.
Not for the first time, I am baffled by this argument. There's a perfectly good argument that it would be better if no tax was levied on tampons - it's just that it's not something the Government can legally do. But the argument that, given that tax is levied on tampons, it is insulting for the proceeds to be given to women's charities is just really odd.

I think there are three different assumptions going on, and all of them are wrong. The first is the one you see about 'luxuries' and razors and so on.
I recognise that razors are zero-rated, and judging by many Conservative Members the opportunity to shave every day is a human right. They are cleanly shaven, and I am sure they would be concerned to be charged a higher rate of VAT.
 Stella Creasy, Hansard, 26 October 2015
The idea being that idiot know-nothing men apply VAT to essentials like tampons that don't affect them, while ensuring that more male products, like razors, are exempt. Which is fine, except that razors are VAT-able at 20%.

The second argument is that funding for charities should come from general taxation - typified by the two tweets above. And the obvious answer to this is that it does. Obviously there could always be more money spent on things, and obviously there are more good causes that would benefit from funding than there are funds. But the argument that no public money goes to women's charities apart from this latest initiative is just wrong.

The third, and most emotive argument is that this is just making "Bleeding women pay for other bleeding women". But this argument is arse-about-face. The Government isn't levying a special tax on women in order to pay for women's charities. The tax on women is there already, and unremovable. The Government is just making sure that the money raised is spent on women, and not on ministerial cars, or Type 26 frigates, or any other of the myriad recipients of public funding.

That this initiative has created so much hostility is proof either of the proposition that no good deed goes unpunished, or that there really is just no pleasing some people.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

God, we go through this every time

This story is a hardy perennial, the true meaning of which seems permanently missed.
State school pupils are likely to do better at university than independent school pupils with similar A-level results, according to a new study.
Take that finding, and come at it from another angle, and you get "State school pupils are likely to get worse A-level result than independent school pupils of similar academic ability".Which is what you'd expect, given that independent schools get, on average, better A-level results than state schools. So to get from there to here takes a little effort:
The researchers suggest two reasons for the finding: private school students may have lower incentives to perform well at university and therefore may invest more effort in social life rather than academic work; or they may have been coached at school and subsequently struggle when they get to university.
The second reason there is interestingly put (the first one is pure guesswork). What the researchers are calling "coaching" is what is usually called "teaching". Luckily, given that this story keeps on bobbing up, there's a standard answer from independent school heads:
“This study tells us that, unsurprisingly, A*s generally lead to good degrees. School heads already know that prior attainment is the key to later success,” said Chris Ramsey, headmaster of King’s School, Chester, and a spokesman for the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference of leading private schools. 
“In the real world more independent school pupils get A*s in the first place, and overall get better degrees. Previous, more thorough research shows it is wrong to conclude that more than a tiny number – around 1% - of state school pupils entering at the same level will do better at university.”
Still, hats off I guess for managing to turn a story about poor teaching in state schools to one about lazy, entitled and over-coached kids at private ones.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Well, fancy that...

Not having been a part of the dating game since about 2000, I appreciate that I'm out of touch with how students interact. I have to admit though that I'm entirely on the guy's side in this interaction:
Keenan herself, though, sometimes finds it hard not to go on the offensive. She’s so used to laying down the nitty-gritty details of consent that she's been known to open romantic interactions with a spiel that feels straight out of a student handbook.
She animatedly tells a story about a recent Tinder rendezvous: “One time, I agreed to meet with this guy at 8 or 9 at night. Before we met, I said to him, ‘This is the work I do, I know the chief of police ... so, don't try and get creepy; I know all my rights.’ And five minutes later, he was like, ‘Actually, I'm really not OK with how you just assume I'm a bad guy. And I get very bad vibes from that, so we shouldn't hang out anymore.’”
“I was in a rage. He was a total fuckboy about consent,” she said.
Consent is one thing, being told as an opening gambit that she has the chief of police on speed dial is another. Plus, compare and contrast this with this story, about a man expelled for campus rape.
A recent case at Washington and Lee University is emblematic. After a late-night party filled with the usual heavy drinking, the female accuser, Jane Doe, told her male companion: “I usually don’t have sex with someone I meet on the first night, but you are a really interesting guy.” Jane Doe began kissing John Doe, took off her clothes, and led John Doe to his bed, where she took off his clothes. They had intercourse. This was on February 8, 2014. (Jane later denied using that pick-up line on the ground that she often had sex someone she just met.) The next day, Jane Doe told a friend that she had had sex with John Doe and that she had “had a good time last night.” Over the next month, Jane and John Doe exchanged flirty texts and had intercourse again. Jane Doe attended several more parties at John Doe’s fraternity. At one of them Jane observed John kissing another female and left the party early, upset. John developed a publicly known relationship with that other female. Jane started psychological therapy after seeing John’s name on a list of applicants for a study-abroad program that she had also applied to. She told one of her therapists that she had “enjoyed the sexual intercourse” with John Doe, but was advised that her actions and positive feelings during their first sexual encounter “didn’t negate that it was sexual assault.” She told another therapist that “she had a strong physical reaction” to seeing John’s name on the study abroad list. Jane had also been working at a women’s clinic and attending lectures on sexual assault. During one of those talks, Washington and Lee’s Title IX officer informed the audience of the emerging consensus that “regret equals rape.” On October 30, after Jane Doe learned that John had been accepted to her study-abroad program, she decided to initiate her campus’s sexual assault machinery against him. After a travesty of a proceeding, in which the Title IX officer rejected John Doe’s request to consult a lawyer with the Dantesque warning “a lawyer can’t help you here,” the school expelled him on November 21.
In circumstances where you can be expelled for rape after consensual sex that only became non-consensual 8 months later, I'm amazed anyone at US universities sticks it anywhere ever.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Wait, what?

Quite apart from the historic inaccuracies identified by Tim Worstall in this letter from a Dr Gavin Lewis in Manchester (I do rather wonder what doctorate that is), what the hell this is supposed to mean?
In Jamaica, David Cameron “spoke of his pride that Britain had played a part in abolishing the ‘abhorrent’ trade” and therefore ruled out reparations. However, taking pride in outlawing something that shouldn’t have started in the first place is hardly sufficient. No one for instance would try to get away with taking pride in having outlawed murder and therefore suggesting that no compensation for this crime need take place.
Really? If murder had been an entirely legal and accepted custom for all of human history, and then one nation unilaterally made it illegal, and spent an enormous amount of time and money trying to stamp it out, that wouldn't be something to be proud of?

Monday, October 05, 2015

RIP Denis Healey

Definitely one of the good guys. Not sure about this though:
The death of Denis Healey on Saturday means much more than the passing of a grand old man of British politics. He was the last of the political generation that shaped post-war Britain, men and women who had not only lived through, and often fought in, the second world war, but who had also seen at first hand the terrible years of sustained depression of the 1920s and the 1930s.
Great man though he was, he wasn't the last of the breed. One of them is still an active Parliamentarian no less...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ashcroft update

In day, wait is it 4? of the world-shattering Ashcroft biography, the bitter billionaire noble searcher for truth accidentally reveals the guiding philosophy of his book:
But it’s easier to accuse Cameron of [fill in blank here] than to find any concrete evidence for it.
Easier to still to ignore the evidence and just print the accusations!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The astonishing revelations continue!

Ashcroft and Oakeshott, the Woodward and Bernstein de nos jours, continue their amazing run of maybe true anecdotes today. Here are just some of the astonishing stories that warrant inclusion in an unprofessional hatchet job a work of serious political biography.

David Cameron went to a party.
By the time the PR Matthew Freud and his wife, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, sweep in, the party is in full swing — loud, boozy and perhaps not entirely free of class-A drugs.
That is almost as weaselly as the 'I'm not sure I believe this story but I'm going to include it anyway' one we had yesterday. "Perhaps not entirely free of class-A drugs"? Yassus.

David Cameron once lost his mobile phone
‘He was wandering around drunk, asking if anyone had seen it. I couldn’t believe it,’ says the guest.
David Cameron once had a conversation with Jeremy Clarkson
‘There was a huge marquee full of ladies with big hair and even bigger jewellery. The entertainment for the evening was Dave in conversation with Jeremy Clarkson, who seemed to be smashed off his face.
There's a photo of David Cameron riding a horse
It was taken at the final gathering of the Heythrop Hunt before the ban came into effect, a few days after Christmas 2004. Cameron can be seen on a fine bay mount, looking a little nervous, as horses assemble in the square in Chipping Norton.
Sadly for everyone after yesterday, he's only going hunting on it.

David Cameron once wrote a letter in support of a constituent
Did the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) go easy on Barnfield after pressure from Cameron? It seems more than possible.
The pressure consisting of a letter as Leader of the Opposition to the Attorney General.

Stay tuned for more indiscreet trivial gossip searing revelations!