Tessa and the tax avoidance man
In the absence of even the thinnest evidence that Tessa Jowell has done anything illegal; or has breached the ministerial code of conduct; or failed to record anything in the register of MPs’ interests that she ought to have done; or lied about anything she has done; — in the absence indeed of the slightest plausible excuse for seeking to pull her down, the slavering witch-hunters of the media and (I’m sad to say) the blogosphere are now lambasting her for having married a man who earns his living, perfectly legally as far as all available evidence shows, by advising others on how to ensure that they are not paying any more tax than is legally necessary. Mr Mills’s other offences are apparently (a) to make, and sometimes lose, quite a lot of money — and no-one has even charged him so far with having made it illegally, still less convicted him of illegality; (b) to move money around from place to place in order to maximise the return on it; and (c) periodically to borrow money in the course of these transactions by means of loans and mortgages and other devices in order to enable him to use his capital and investments in the most productive ways.
Here, for example, is Roy Hattersley (with whom I agree more often than not, but he sometimes goes woefully astray) in the Times on Tessa’s husband:
The analyses of his activities, which have preoccupied the newspapers recently, have all described him as a specialist in tax avoidance, hedge funds and off-shore investments. Such is the transformation, for which Tony Blair must take credit, that not one commentator has expressed surprise that the husband of a Labour Cabinet minister should earn his living in this fashion.
Can it be that Roy Hattersley, with all his long experience of the world, including the management of his considerable and well-earned income, doesn’t know the difference between tax avoidance (i.e. avoiding paying unnecessary tax) on the one hand, and tax evasion (illegally dodging one’s legal tax liabilities) on the other? If he is so disapproving of tax avoidance specialists, are we to take it that he himself is quite content to pay whatever the Inland Revenue demands, without checking their figures and questioning any apparent exaggeration of his tax bill? Doesn’t he employ an accountant to advise him, among other things, on how to make sure that he doesn’t pay more tax than necessary? You need to be pretty well heeled to be able to afford not to bother about such trivia.
There’s something unsavoury about socialists denouncing other socialists for having money and managing it sensibly, even insinuating that such antisocial behaviour is incompatible with holding socialist views and espousing socialist values. Now we’re to understand that you can’t even be a socialist and be married to someone who has money and manages it sensibly. It isn’t hard to imagine what Nye Bevan, whose status as a genuine socialist is rarely questioned and who was no stranger to the good and expensive life, would have thought of such distasteful Pecksniffery.
Personally I’m glad to campaign for more progressive income tax rates and higher taxes on the relatively better-off, even if that means an increase in my own tax liabilities: but it seems to me infantile to suggest that this opinion imposes an obligation on me to add a voluntary contribution to the Treasury on top of the tax that I already willingly pay.
Can this be the same Roy Hattersley who began his column in today’s Guardian thus? —
Were I still a member of parliament, I would vote for the second reading of the education bill.
I don’t for a moment blame him for not flaunting his membership of the Upper House of Parliament, but he goes a shade too far in seeking to deny it.
Here’s Dickens on Mr Pecksniff, in Martin Chuzzlewit:
Mr. Pecksniff was a moral man: a grave man, a man of noble sentiments and speech…Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr. Pecksniff: especially in his conversation and correspondence. It was once said of him by a homely admirer, that he had a Fortunatus’s purse of good sentiments in his inside. In this particular he was like the girl in the fairy tale, except that if they were not actual diamonds which fell from his lips, they were the very brightest paste, and shone prodigiously. He was a most exemplary man: fuller of virtuous precept than a copy-book. Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there: but these were his enemies, the shadows cast by his brightness; that was all.
Mr Pecksniff would no doubt have issued the severest of reprimands to anyone richer than himself who stooped to the caddishness of minimising his or her tax bill, while discreetly making very sure that he himself didn’t pay a penny more in tax than he had to.
Stick it out, Tessa! Nil illegitimibus carborundum!
— Brian (who is happy to disclose that he employs an accountant, not only because he can’t understand his annual tax return form sufficiently to fill it in himself, but also to make sure that he ‘avoids’ paying more tax than he has to on his modest but very adequate public service pension and even more modest savings, preferring to leave a few quid to his children and to spend some of them himself while he can, rather than make a voluntary present of them to the Inland Revenue. So expel him from the party in disgrace. At least he’ll be in excellent company.)