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Thursday, March 17, 2016 

Your idols speak so much of the abyss...

Usually it's a mistake to bring morality into politics.  We're all as The Thick of It had it, in the same plague pit.  None of us have clean hands.  We all also have different notions of morality; take the weirdo that runs The Entertainer chain of toy shops.  He refuses to stock anything related to Harry Potter due to his Christianity, despite how the entire series is about the battle between good and evil.  Each to their own.  So long as politicians don't try to impose their own warped version of morality on everyone else, something that continues to be a problem in Northern Ireland if not so much for us in the rUK, then we can just about live and let live.

Normally then, John McDonnell describing the cuts to personal independence payments as "morally reprehensible" wouldn't be a good idea, especially when McDonnell has said things in that past that plenty of others would regard as similarly reprehensible.  As Robert Peston for one noted however, the £1.2bn set to be cut from PIP makes up for the loss in revenue from reducing capital gains tax and raising the 40p income tax threshold.  George Osborne has decided that the disabled, those recognised as needing help with going to the toilet and getting dressed should loss some of their benefits so the most well off get a tax cut.  Nor is it just the disabled.  While the spare room subsidy was brought in some time ago, the claimed rationale was to incentivise those affected to downsize.  A few years on, and now those in the private sector lucky enough to have a spare room to let out on sites like Airbnb are to get a tax break.  The word obscene comes to mind.

When Seema Malhotra was asked on Newsnight if she would go along with McDonnell's description, she demurred.  A bit too much of a low blow, especially when governments at the best of times involve themselves in morally dubious acts.  Malhotra would like to imagine she still might one day be at the Treasury herself, faced with making difficult decisions that will affect the poor and disabled.  Sajid Javid for his part denied furiously that he would involve himself in something as despicable as taking money from the disabled, as the money being spent overall is going up.  Which as the IFS today stated is true, with spending having increased four-fold over the past 20 years.  That doesn't make much odds to those set to lose on average £3,500 a year, nor will it those in the Work group part of ESA, down by up to £30 a week thanks to the recent vote.

Our views on who is and who isn't deserving are equally idiosyncratic.  The chancellor who complained of hard-working folk getting up early in the morning, seeing their neighbours' curtains drawn, returning home late in the evening to the same scene has no problem with handing out £1,000 in cash to those able to save £4,000 a year.  It doesn't matter whether the money put in is down to graft or given by a wealthy parent, it will get the same reward.  The IFS says this could prove extraordinarily costly, and once these sweeteners are in place the shrieks if you abolish them can prove deafening.  The obvious point is if the government has grands to splash about and growth is forecast to be tepid at best, why not give the money instead to those who will spend it rather than save it, those set to lose rather than gain from the budget?  We have an aversion to handouts, except when they go to us and those like us.  We fret about moral hazard, encouraging unethical or irresponsible behaviour when we have institutions that are too big to fail, and yet the absurdities of rewarding some to motivate them and penalising others to do the same goes on.

Not that the mixed response to the budget or such criticisms will bother George Osborne in the slightest.  The Mail applauded the giveaways to "Middle England", Middle England in the Mail's world meaning the top 7% of earners.  That's all that will matter when Osborne's sights are set purely on the prize of the top job.  Tom Clark in the Graun reckons Osborne's otherwise laughable plan for turning a £21bn deficit one year into a £10bn surplus the next is down to how he intends to call an early election once ensconced as Tory leader, with only the fixed terms parliament act standing in his way.  If so, Osborne's slow transformation into Gordon Brown is all but complete.  We can but hope he meets the same fate.

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