Give the bloke his due, Jeremy Corbyn did launch a spirited attack on David Cameron in Parliament this afternoon. But as always, the Prime Minister chose the terrain upon which he would fight….and no Parliamentarian of real standing challenged those essentially legal grounds. Dear old Bolsover Beast blew an opportunity so to do out of pure mulish silliness, but he is still a fine man.
Nevertheless, as befitted another man dealing with tax loopholes about which he has been at best vague, CallMeDave wriggled through three loopholes and survived.
To stop him doing so, here are the five questions that, as Opposition Leader, The Slog would’ve made during today’s Commons debate about David Cameron’s character….which in my view requires no debate at all, but that’s another story:
- Would any of the measures he announced today have happened without the existence of the Panama Papers?
- Why did Cameron actively lobby the EU about ‘watering down’ tax evasion?
- What real evidence does he have that the Trusts issue would’ve scuppered such international agreement as we have today?
- If the tax laws are made – and the subject of intense lobbying by – rich individuals and corporations, isn’t the fact that something is deemed ‘lawful’ simply a weasel in the context of rampant inequality before the law?
- If the IRS, HMRC and other Sovereign tax collectors played a straight bat with all citizens about their real tax liability, surely tax avoidance would be just as illegal as tax evasion?
Regarding Q1, the answer is Cameron was caught on the hop by the PPs, and was forced to fall back on a heavily rewritten history of his anti tax evasion policies. As for Q2, Cameron dodged the question, but pointed out at Q3 that all the tax havens had been unwilling to give up on offshore Trusts. Spookily, the PM’s personal tax advantages came via…a Trust. As for the haven obduracy about them, we have only his word to guide us.
The two really key questions – because there is no answer to them that would satisfy any open-minded, fair individual – are those at 4 and 5. And tragically, Jeremy Corbyn did not highlight them because, I suspect, he doesn’t want to come across as a high- tax Labour looney.
The two questions run naturally together, in that they query the whole concept of something lawful necessarily being right. In 13th century England, it was lawful for noblemen to rape serf virgins. In 19th century Britain, it was lawful for landowners to evict tenants without notice or reason. In 20th century EU State the United Kingdom, it was lawful for undemocratic trade unions to call strikes without consulting a quorum of the membership. In 21st century Cruel Britannia, it is lawful for the main tax collection body to do seedy ‘deals’ with tax-evading multinational UK employers; it is also lawful for the Government to evade their political and moral responsibility to honour State pensions promises made to female citizens for over five decades.
All of this was lawful. But it was (and is) culturally harmful.
So let me state here and now that I find the distinction between evasion and avoidance of tax a confection.
Linguistically, the distinction is obviously false: if you evade an oncoming truck, you also avoid being hit by it. Legally, a law created to establish tax due from all citizens can only be avoided by the rich, because only they have the money to hire tax accountants who specialise in such things. The poor have to evade it by dealing in cash….and as such, are vilified in the Daily Mail by an Executive Editor who uses every tax fiddle available to avoid the very same tax.
If we criminalise one-off tax deals for rich companies – and at the same time hire better tax law drafters to close the loopholes – then we can abolish the hair-splitting “difference” between evasion and avoidance.
It really is that simple. But once again, Labour has missed an open goal…and with one mighty wriggle, David Cameron remains at large.
This is the reality: the Camerlot Conservatives talk a good game about the level tax playing field….and yet they flatly refuse to give the ref the extra linesmen and cameras he needs to spot the fouls. This suggests, surely, that they quite like the ref’s decisions – because they keep on awarding everyone else penalties.
Footnote: nobody from the Labour side highlighted the fact that, in his dealings with multinationals, Chancellor George Osborne is effectively competing with other Western nations in order to become a tax haven by any other name. And the one intelligent question asked about Osborne & Little’s seven tax years of 0% paid in corporation tax received classic Cameron humbug about it being “exactly the sort of small business we should be encouraging”. Osborne & Little’s turnover in fiscal 2015 was £22,433,000. That’s a very broad definition of small.