Thursday, 24 March 2016

Adam Johnson ridiculous sentence

Sunderland and England footballer, Adam Johnson, has been sentenced to six years in jail for "grooming" and "sexually touching" a 15-year-old girl. The grooming seems to have consisted of meetings in his car and exchanging text messages, some flirty but most innocuous. The sexual touching did not involve the removal of her trousers (something he was hoping to do on a future occasion.)

So far, so wrong.

But contrast with the case of Caroline Berriman, a teaching assistant who groomed and bedded a 15-year-old boy in her charge. She had sex with him 50 times (that's probably an approximation.) On conviction her sentence was two years' jail time - suspended! So she did not serve any jail time at all. This despite the fact she did have sex with the underaged boy, lots of times, and as a teaching assistant she was in a position of authority over him. The age of consent between teacher and pupil is 18, not the usual 16, so the boy was three years underaged, whereas the girl was less than a year underage in the Johnson case.

Caroline Berriman: Likes 'em young
Although both Johnson and Berriman clearly committed crimes, Johnson's was the lesser crime and yet he has been much more harshly sentenced.
This is not an aberration. The judge did not shake his pen and have too much ink come out. It is very common institutional sexism in which woman are treated more leniently than men for the exact same crime. It is a national disgrace and one that the public are beginning to notice in big way. A lot of the comments under the Daily Mail article about Johnson refer to the disparity in punishment.

It is about time equality cut both ways.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

2x silver lining

Yesterday's atrocity in Belgium seems to be having two beneficial side effects, viz: even quite mainstream, previously downright lefty, columnists are starting to take the candidacy of one Donald J Trump seriously, and it will also be a shot in the arm for the Brexit campaign as it is an object lesson in what happens when you have a substantial muslim population - the main Paris suspect was living openly in the Molenbeek area of Brussels.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Budget 2016

Yesterday George Osborne delivered his third budget in the last two years and it looked like this:


                   2015     2016
Welfare            £222bn   £240bn
Social services    £ 30bn   £ 30bn
NHS                £141bn   £145bn
Transport          £ 28bn   £ 29bn
Education          £ 99bn   £102bn
Defence            £ 45bn   £ 46bn
DTI                £ 24bn   £ 24bn
Housing, environ   £ 28bn   £ 34bn
Police, intel      £ 34bn   £ 34bn
Debt interest      £ 36bn   £ 39bn
Other              £ 48bn   £ 49bn

Total spend        £742bn   £772bn


Income tax         £170bn   £182bn
National insur     £115bn   £126bn
Excise duties      £ 47bn   £ 48bn
VAT                £133bn   £138bn
Business rates     £ 28bn   £ 28bn
Council tax        £ 28bn   £ 30bn
Corporation tax    £ 42bn   £ 43bn
Other              £109bn   £120bn

Total receipts     £673bn   £716bn

Total borrow       £ 69bn   £ 56bn 

The usual suspects, Welfare, NHS, continue to get big rises and no spending actually gets cut. This is achieved by means of some rather heavy tax rises; income tax up £12bn, NI up £11bn, VAT up £5bn, and yet there were no headline rate rises. In fact quite the reverse, tax rates were either held or lowered. George is doing it all by assuming the country is going to get richer, and also by borrowing £56bn more over the life of the parliament than he said he would last year.

Oops, it's bit soon in the life of the parliament to have been blown off course by £56bn!

Osborne rose at 12:34 PM and started with a strong pro-EU message, claiming the independent Office of Budget Responsibility had predicted dire things if the UK voted for a Brexit. Unfortunately for GO the OBR later denied having any opinion on what would happen if the UK left the EU other than there might be a period of "uncertainty" - which is stating the obvious to put it mildly.

The OBR does have opinions on GDP and inflation though. GDP is going down and inflation is going up.
Year    GDP    Inflation
2015    +2.2%  0.7%
2016    +2.0%  1.6%
2017    +2.2%
2018    +2.1%

GO then went on to hit big business quite hard with taxes while giving breaks to small businesses, including a rather neat break for "micro" businesses: you can earn £1,000 a year totally tax free and off the books. This is probably necessary to keep HMRC viable. So many people are making a few quid here and there on Ebay or Airbnb and the like that HMRC would be swamped if they all registered as businesses and filled in the full set of forms.

The other big giveaway was raising the 40% tax band from £42,000 to £45,000 (ish) but not until April next year. What the point of a giveaway so far in the future is? Better would be not to announce until next year and get the plaudits straight away. Chancellors of old used to know to do this.

There was some SNP nose tweaking. Had Scotland voted "out" they would be coming up on independence just about now. Osborne cut the North Sea oil taxes in half while sneering that Scotland would be bankrupt without the UK (which is true of course, cue stony silence from the SNP benches.) He also froze the duty on "Scotch" whisky. He forgot to mention Irish whiskey which can't be good for his knees.

He then introduced a truly baffling "lifetime" ISA, only available to the under-40s, so not very lifetime. The deal is generous though, the  government will pay a whacking 25% interest (max £1,000 per year.) Much wailing and gnashing of gums among those too old to benefit. This "LISA" is supposed to be a hybrid mortgage deposit fund and pension scheme for those who cannot decide if they want a pension or a house. These days having both is off the cards. Thanks, Tony!

There were two big surprises. The first was the "Sugar levy" which will tax sugary drinks to stop kids getting fat, but not for two years so the manufacturers have time to replace the sugar with aspartame and give the kids brain tumours instead of diabetes. The second was the dog which did not bark: he didn't mess with pensions. It was thought he would axe the higher rate tax relief, but he didn't.

It was also suggested he would nail a tax dodge called "salary sacrifice" but he didn't do that either.

All in all, it was a weird little budget of no great consequence.

After an hour George sat down and Corbyn rose to respond. He gave such a lackluster speech that even his own MPs directly behind him chatted among themselves rather than listen to it. He really needed to have brought along Mao's little red book to liven things up. He rightly pointed out that Osborne's debt promises are complete fiction these days, but nobody was listening.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The EU referendum gets started

The EU stars have aligned (which is unfortunate because they are supposed to be in a circle) but in fact I mean that the senior Tory politicians have declared which side of the in/out EU debate they are on. Long term sceptics like John Redwood reliably pronounced for “out” on day one. But sadly for the “out” campaign mainy of their main supporters in government are second-raters such as  Chris “Failing” Grayling who wrecked the Justice Department and is now having his mad schemes reversed by Michael Gove (perhaps himself the best of the Outers in government) or Iain Duncan Smith who has spent the last six years failing to deliver “universal credit”.

Boris “the Buffoon” has belatedly come down on the side of “out” after spending a day wracking his brain looking for the main chance. His computations seem to have boiled down to: I support “in” and “in” wins I’m just another face in the Prime Minister’s adoring crowd but if “in” loses I’m on the wrong side of history, whereas I support “out” and “out” wins then it was me that won  it for the country because I’m the biggest fish in the “out” kettle, but if “out” loses I can continue to point out how right I was every time the EU does something stupid (like let in a million migrants) which is bound to happen quite often and anyway the PM is quitting before the next general election so will be yesterday’s man the day after tomorrow.

So Boris prefers a glorious failure to an “I was there, you just didn’t see me,” success. Actual national interest has no part to plan in such cogitations.

The fracture in government has gone quite deep, mainly because the government has taken a side – ie “in”. “Out” supporting ministers are not allowed to ask civil servants to do research for them and are not allowed to see papers used by the “in” side. But “in” ministers have the use of the civil service because “in” is government policy. It gets a bit tricky when a minister says he hasn’t decided whether he is “in” or “out” yet! And even trickier when a minister changes sides – he could have papers ripped out of his hands.

The campaign will be dominated by “Fear” and “Apathy”. The Inners will appeal most to people’s fear of change and make out that jobs will be lost and Europe will never talk to us again. On the Outers’ side you have the fact that people content with the status quo may not bother to vote. Idealistic Outers are far more likely to turn up at the voting booth than browbeaten Inners.

An interesting case is Chancellor George Osborne. He has a big moment coming up on the 16th of March when he presents his next budget. GO is a firm Inner and seems to live in fear of the economic effects of leaving the EU. And no doubt there will be some negative economic consequences; all serious Outers will admit that but they still want out because the freedom and independence (re)gained outweighs the wealth lost, especially as the freedom is permanent but the wealth loss temporary.

GO has his big speech day coming. He may use it to project fear at the nation. And it may be he actually feels fear himself. He has the economy stacked up like a house of cards. The “lowest ever” interest rates are still in place. The highest ever QE is still there. Asset prices are pumped up like a helium balloon at an illegal rave. Osborne knows more than most that it wouldn’t take much of a push to bring it all down. Imagine the pound comes under pressure by a lot of fickle foreigners selling. GO would have to raise interest rates to defend it, then down comes all the leveraged assets and with them jobs and trade and all.

But dare he, in his speech, actually say, “Don’t vote Out, my house of cards would collapse”? Probably not. The public mainly considers the 2007/8 depression done and dusted and no one wants to remind them it was just put on ice with heaps of printed money.

We still have more than three months before we vote. Of special interest will be “migration season” when the Eastern hordes march across Europe kicking down any fences in their way. Small boys drowned on beaches may help the In side. Another mass rape in Cologne would be good for the Outers.

The campaign has a long way to run.