The Daily Smackdown: The Left’s Manufactured Tampon Tax Hysteria

Tampon Tax - HM Treasury

Left wing activists know that the British government is prevented from lowering VAT on sanitary products (the tampon tax) by EU law. But that doesn’t stop them using the issue to bash the Evil Tories

From observing the outraged reaction to George Osborne’s 2015 Autumn Statement, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Chancellor was launching his own personal war on women, right from his desk at the Treasury.

By far the most ludicrous criticism of the Conservative government’s updated spending plans was directed at George Osborne’s plan to divert all proceeds raised from the tampon tax to support various women’s charities.

While delivering yesterday’s Autumn Statement, Osborne said:

“We already charge the lowest 5% rate allowable under European law and we’re committed to getting the EU rules changed. Until that happens, I’m going to use the £15m a year raised from the tampon tax to fund women’s health and support charities. The first £5m will be distributed between the Eve Appeal, SafeLives and Women’s Aid and the Haven – and I invite bids from other such good causes.”

A sensible enough idea given the constraints on the Treasury, no?


Cue lots of ostentatious confected outrage and virtue-signalling on social media, with activists and left wing organisations falling over themselves to accuse Osborne of being a heartless misogynist.

Here’s Labour councillor and NHS high priestess Aysha Raza, riding to battle against those awful, sexist Tories:

Tampon Tax - Aysha Raza


(I debated Aysha Raza on the topic of the NHS on TV last year, and asked her if she could think of any NHS reform or service closure she would support, even if it led to better overall health outcomes for the British people. Her response – a blank stare and a telling silence).

And lots of other people have been sharing the same Independent article by Holly Baxter, in which Baxter admits that Osborne has no power to abolish the tampon tax but still proceeds to rake him over the coals for trying to help vulnerable women with the resulting tax receipts.

From Baxter’s piece:

Since the Tory government has failed women in so many ways, it makes undeniable sense for it to help us to help ourselves. Give a woman a tampon and she’ll use it for free; teach a woman to pay tampon tax and she won’t even cost anything extra to the state when she gets raped, attacked or laid off at work.

So if you’re a woman escaping from an abusive relationship in the Chancellor’s Britain, you can now pay for your own counselling through the redistribution of an unfair tax on your sanitary products. Isn’t that just perfect? It has a beautiful circularity, kind of like the menstrual cycle itself.

But of course this was never meant to be a rational argument; no, this is just about hating the Tories for the sake of it:

Osborne presumably thinks that women will respond gratefully to his announcement, allowing us to finally enjoy the spoils of our luxury tampon tax. ‘What a noble move!’ we are supposed to cry, while shredding our sanitary towels into confetti and sprinkling them in the streets (don’t worry about the waste – it’s all going to charity, girls.) ‘Women can now collectively take responsibility for the provision of support services to women. Finally, we’re being given the means to sort out the problems we created. This truly is the Big Society.

Back to reality, though, and Osborne almost certainly had zero expectations that his announcement would have women dancing in the streets, but was simply trying to do the best he could with the bad hand he was dealt by the EU. But let’s not let reality get in the way of a good Tory-hating session.

To those on the perpetually-outraged, Tory-hating Left, George Osborne can never do right. It is inconceivable to them that the man who (in their fevered imaginations) falls asleep cackling to himself about driving benefit claimants to suicide might actually want to help women, and use the revenues from a tax that he is forced to levy by Brussels to help truly vulnerable women in our society.

Such an honest motive would shatter the worldview of the Angry Left, who are determined to stick to their two-dimensional caricature of conservative thought and keep their leftist worldview blissfully free of nuance. And so the only reason that George Osborne could be considering using the tampon tax revenues to fund women’s services is either to mock them or to “throw them a bone”.

Is it ludicrous that tampons and pads – an essential item, and about as far from a luxury as it is possible to be – are subject to any VAT? Absolutely. But some on the activist Left are more keen to use this inequity to bash the Evil Tories rather than direct their ire at the source of the problem.

And the problem is their beloved European Union, as the BBC helpfully explains:

A spokesman for HMRC says: “The application of VAT in the EU, including rates and flexibilities afforded to member states such as the UK, is governed by EU law.

“The UK applies a 5% reduced rate of VAT to the supply of sanitary products. This is the lowest rate possible under EU VAT law.”

Yes, the inconvenient truth for the Tory-haters is that VAT on sanitary products is not enforced by the malice of George Osborne, but rather by the dead bureaucratic hand of the European Union.

If these virtue-signalling activists were really so concerned about government discrimination against women, they would spend their time and energies criticising Brussels for not having carved out an exemption long ago.

And if they really wanted to exercise their brains, they could ask themselves whether it is really “democratic” for Britain to belong to a massive supra-national organisation which insists on ever-closer union and harmonisation of vast swathes of policy, making it impossible for the British government to do the right thing and end the tampon tax.

But of course there will be no such introspection from the Left. The EU is benevolent and all wonderful, and nothing bad can possibly come from it. Besides, only swivel-eyed racists and Ukippers would ever criticise the European Union, right?

It’s time for these preening social media activists to decide who and what they really care about. Do they actually want to bring an end to the tampon tax – in which case they should start lobbying Brussels or campaigning for Brexit – or do they simply want to flaunt their virtue by making false allegations of misogyny and chauvinism directed at George Osborne and the Conservatives?

Style or substance – what’s it going to be?

Tampon Tax Protests

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Budget And Autumn Statement Theatre Is No Way To Run Modern Britain

Homer Simpson - George Osborne - Budget - Annual Statement

The way British governments set budgets and tweak spending plans is a recipe for bad, short-termist decision making

Forget tax credits for a moment. Forget Right-To-Buy, stamp duty, beer duty and the tampon tax. MPs may still be debating George Osborne’s 2015 Autumn Statement, but step back for a moment and look at the broader picture.

Twice a year – once in the annual Budget and once in the Autumn Statement – the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets to his feet and delivers a refreshed set of economic policies in a big, set piece speech where he is essentially forced to favour tomorrow’s headlines over optimal long or even medium term decision making.

Nationally significant policies from every government ministry live or die by the concessions that their ministers are able to wrangle from a Chancellor who is forced by political reality to be more concerned with tomorrow’s Daily Mail headline than the state of our public finances in a year’s time.

Spending decisions are made based on economic forecasts which are sunnier than a warm day on Venus. Questionable political decisions are defended to the hilt, because to question them in light of new data would be to commit the gravest of self-inflicted political wounds, the U-turn. The government of the day rolls out a “smoke and mirrors” act worthy of David Blaine, and all to glam up the fact that they have slightly re-arranged the deckchairs on the Titanic.

And for what? To draw the public in to the political process? To high-mindedly arbitrate complex questions of economic policy? To astutely position Britain  vis-à-vis our global competitors, ensuring that our tax code, infrastructure and labour market are the most attractive in the world?

No. We do it just so that the government of the day – or a nimble opposition (remember those?) – can score political points. And, of course, because it is traditional.

Some traditions – like MPs not clapping in the Commons chamber – are antiquated and affected, but do little real damage. Others – like MPs having to leave the Commons chamber through a specific door in order to vote, rather than availing themselves of fast electronic voting technology – are an irritant, a brake on the smooth running of our legislature.

But some traditions belong in another category – things that do real, actual harm, not just to the running of our Parliament but to the political outcomes which we then have to live with every day. Some traditions actively harm our democracy.

I would submit that the Budget and Autumn State set-piece theatre events fall into this latter category. Politically astute chancellors (like George Osborne on a good day) may relish them because they provide an unparalleled opportunity to draw red lines and create traps for the opposition. The Westminster media may like the status quo, because if nothing else, these events can be moments of real political drama.

George Osborne - Chancellor of the Exchequer - Budget

But besides savvy chancellors and the established media, it is hard to tell who else benefits from the current system other than the cause of Big Government.

Having two occasions each year when an already-powerful chancellor like George Osborne in an already-centralised country like the United Kingdom gets to play with nearly all of the controls and levers which influence our economy – as though he were Homer Simpson at the controls of Springfield Nuclear Plant – only encourages meddling and tweaking of things that should properly be left to local government and individuals.

When you have direct, ultimate control over which families deserve help buying a house, which people should keep or lose their benefits or how much a person pays in sin taxes for their guilty pleasure, the temptation to use those powers is irresistible. And because of the ratchet effect, it is the easiest thing in the world to give away new perks to favoured interest groups, but nearly impossible to ever claw them back without being exposed to political attack. Even under this nominally conservative government, budgets and autumn statements have often been a one-way ticket to bigger government – or at least more activist state.

No system is perfect. One needs only look across the Atlantic ocean at the United States, with their unseemly debt ceiling fights and government shutdowns (oh, to have one here) to realise that you do not need a Westminster parliamentary-style system to sow budget chaos. But the flaws in our current system are obvious, and have been staring us in the face for years – yet nobody has proposed the slightest alteration, choosing instead to cheer when their side “wins” and whine when the other side is in power and sets a budget with which we disagree.

People did not elect a Conservative government only to have George Osborne sit at the control console of their lives, Homer Simpson-like, flicking switches and adjusting dials here and there in order to manipulate our mood so that we vote Tory again in 2020. If conservatism still means anything, it should mean a healthy scepticism of the state and its power to influence or police human behaviour.

Surely at some point our desire for smaller government and a smarter state has to outweigh our devotion to the dusty tradition of a man standing on the doorstep of his house, waving a red box around.

Autumn Statement - George Osborne - Conservative Government - Man at Control Panel

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