Paul T Horgan: A ‘moral crusade’ against wealth? That’s immoral

For some reason, the writer Peter Oborne does not register with me as much as James Delingpole, Toby Young, Julie Burchill or Nick Cohen. He seems bland by comparison.

He seems to follow trends rather than striking out on his own. Well, following opinion might be safe, but originality in writing is much better.

So it is disappointing, but not too surprising, that he seems to be following Labour's narrative on the 'Paradise Papers' in his recent article in the Daily Mail.

I have already written about the various myths associated with taxation, especially about the non-existence of 'tax avoidance', which is actually 'gaming the system' while complying with the law. Oborne merely follows the herd instead of providing objective analysis.

His prescription for Mrs May's survival in office is for her to follow up on her pledge to work primarily for those ‘just about managing’, made in Downing Street before she entered No 10 for the first time as Prime Minister. However his suggestion is simply for her to modify the current tax regime so her government can spend more without increasing the deficit.

He writes about launching a 'moral crusade' against those who use perfectly legal methods to minimise their tax liability. This is absurd. The state, especially a democratic one, should never denounce definable sections of the population, still less lead a 'crusade' against them, 'moral' or otherwise. This is actually immoral, as it essentially gives the population official permission to hate. Some people do not need much prompting for this.

Oborne states: 'The vast majority of people will have been appalled to have learnt how some big corporations, super-rich financiers and sanctimonious celebrities, such as the singer Bono and sports presenter Gary Lineker, have used complicated schemes to reduce their tax bills.' This might be the case, but is only because of the biased way the news has been presented as well as poor education about taxation and the populace's relationship with the state.

He goes on: 'They must be stopped from avoiding their fair share of taxes — an insult to hard-working families who are squeezed by the taxman for every last penny.’ This is actually an insult to tax authorities, implying that their attitude to 'hard-working families' is predatory. He also repeats the myth about 'fair share of taxes'. There is no such thing. People pay what they owe, fair or not.

It is obvious that, as pollsters have found, a government acting decisively to close down legal offshore tax-minimisation schemes would be popular with the wider electorate who are not as rich as the people who use them. However, these schemes have been in existence in one form or another for decades, so it is clearly not as simple as issuing a blanket ban.

Policy, or at least its implementation, does not come from a leadership directive issued by Downing Street to be followed without question, but is instead shaped by experts in Whitehall at the behest of their political masters. The Select Committee system exists so that the experts may be interrogated. The Treasury Select Committee could invite the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury to explain why such minimising schemes exist and how these schemes might be minimised themselves. That would be more sensible than having a good old rant or mobilising the populace to victimise wealth-creators over their rewards.

There might be a case of checks and balances going on. The current tax regime might actually provide the maximum revenue it is possible to raise. Oborne does not consider this. When the coalition abolished the 50p tax rate and replaced it with a 45p rate, more money came in. Taxation does depress economic activity. Excessive taxation can harm or even destroy an economy. Oborne might be able to remember the plight of the UK in the 1970s, or alternatively he can take a holiday in Venezuela if he wants a current example of an economy sickened by state over-intervention.



There are no simple answers to taxation and spending, or there would be fewer civil servants working in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and at the Treasury and the spending ministries. The UK has a large and complex economy. It is not a Gordian Knot that can be sliced through to solve problems. Finding reasons to hate the affluent will not make good on Mrs May's pledges.

Plundering the wealthy for redistribution is a short-term panacea but always leads to long-term disaster. Denouncing wealth management as 'glaring and immoral unfairness', as Oborne does, will fill the column inches but helps no one. The best way is not to demonise those who use offshore schemes, but to make the schemes unnecessary. That would be more useful than merely promoting a class warfare that was shown to be obsolete when countries started having to shoot people who tried to flee the consequent economic dictatorship.

Oborne should take a few writing tips from Delingpole, Burchill, Young and Cohen. Or perhaps from me. He can contact the editors of this site.

Paul T Horgan

  • Anthony

    We were warned about demonising those who do better than us:

    Genesis 4:
    1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
    2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
    3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
    4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
    5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
    6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
    7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
    8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
    9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
    10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
    11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;
    12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
    13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

    • CRSM

      I fear Anthony, that all that time in your cave in the desert has addled your brain.

    • Phil R

      Abel brought the very best of what he had to the Lord. It was a real sacrifice, hence the affirmation from the Lord.

      Cain on the other hand reluctantly paid his quota and no more.

      One was selfish the other generous, the generous recieved affirmation and the selfish became jealous and wanted to do evil.

  • Colkitto03

    Could it be that globalisation is not as wonderful as the elite would have us believe?

  • noix

    Most people who make complaints about the rich avoiding tax will do the same themselves, such as paying a builder in cash, whilst not registering their own hypocrisy. The answer, as shown by Reagan, is to lower the rate, and have no exclusions or tax breaks.

  • Labour_is_bunk

    We’re on very dangerous ground when it can arbitrarily be decided what is the ” morally right” level of tax to pay.
    Actually, I’m amused by the names mentioned in the article. Lineker is certainly a Remainer, and I would wager money that “Bonio” is too, plus of course the “big corporations” – and Remainers wouldn’t dream of “avoiding” tax now, would they?

  • Owen_Morgan

    Tax avoidance is legal. It always will be, because the term refers to tax avoided by use of legal methods. You can change what counts as legal, but tax avoidance itself always will be.

    There is a gaping hole in the public finances because of the profligacy of successive governments. It’s a bit rich to try to deflect the blame on to those who choose not to pay more tax than they are legally required to do. The very wealthy make an easy target for the envious. The fact is that they are also a moving target; they can shift their wealth and themselves beyond the reach of a too onerous tax régime. When that happens, the clueless rankings of a John McDonnell, or Peter Oborne, are exposed in all their fatuity.

    • Colkitto03

      Quite right, also big companies have a duty to their shareholders to maximize profits. In addition most of will have pensions that rely on these big corporations being successful.

      • That is, of course, the only real obligation of any corporation, business, or, indeed, businessman. To do that properly one must balance many factors, taxation amongst them, in a properly conducted country, it should not be the primary one.

        As to fixing your deficit, as here, there is only one solution that will work. Said long ago, and lived my for millennia, “However much you make, spend less.” Good advice for us, imperative for our governments.

        • Colkitto03

          Absolutely. Once a firm becomes a PLC that is the only real obligation. A lot of them bang on about ‘corporate social responsibility’ but that is just PR and is all about brand.

          • And/or perceived political correctness. We just had a new example. Keurig (the company that makes the ridiculous coffee pots) objected to Sean Hannity’s support for Judge Roy Moore, and pulled their advertising. Trying to make it even better they announced it on Twitter. The reaction: many, many Keurigs destroyed on Twitter, Hannity replacing them at his cost (brand undecided), and Keurig retreating as fast as they can. Fun example for me, I think Keurig (and Nespresso) are simply stupid, and I dislike Hannity. Can everyone lose, please?

            Another day in virtue signalling masked as marketing. All things tie back to brand. Doing good work is part of your brand, so is doing it cheap, if you can manage both, you’ll die rich, neither your brand will die soon. Same with workplace injuries, want the best to work for you? Don’t get them hurt. And on and on.

    • Little Black Censored

      Oh. but there is this cunning new phrase “aggressive tax avoidance”; we can tell at once that is is something nasty and wrong, and the Government will tell us when we are doing it.

  • Flaketime

    This is a fantastic idea !!

    We really ought to be royally outraged against those wealthy individuals who sit in luxury paying little or no taxes while lecturing us on how we should use our money to subsidise their hatred of us and the half baked schemes they want funded.

    I’m talking of course about the global hypocrites like Bono, Geldoff, Branson, Gore, Blair, etc etc.

    Let us raise the taxes on the so called ‘creative’ industries by 10 or 20% on earnings over £100K to pay for the idiotic schemes they so desire others to fund but are completely averse to paying for themselves.

    Let us have a wealth tax on people like Emma Thompson who hasn’t done much in the past few years but whose past glories allow her to act like a recently release mental health inmate, or Lilly Allen perhaps.

    We NEED a wealth tax, but we need it to be targeted on those who would spend other peoples hard earned money whilst keeping their own carefully guarded !

  • Bob

    There’s many misconceptions in the MSM about these offshore funds, the existence of which actually enables those of us who are not milionaires, to invest at an affordable price. The tax being ‘avoided’ is the tax paid by the fund itself, not the individual investors into the fund. This allows those of us with pensions, insurances etc to piggy back and invest. Without the offshore funds, the wealthy investors money is invested directly themselves i.e. no fund for us to invest into. Everybody loses. It’s about time the MSM checked their facts are were called out for the mindless hysteria they produce.

    • Phil R

      “The tax being ‘avoided’ is the tax paid by the fund itself, not the individual investors into the fund”

      Agreed but since the fund would not exist without investors, the investors also avoid tax. The bigger the investor the bigger the avoidance

      • Bob

        That’s the point though, Phil R, it wouldn’t exist. If they couldn’t use the fund offshore, they wouldn’t bother using one in the UK, they’d invest directly without a fund because they can afford to. That leaves people like me, without vast financial means, unable to piggy back. That means less investment all round as becomes far more expensive to do it.

  • paul parmenter

    I remember many years ago contributing to an online debate about the need for armies. Several people had expressed the view that it would be possible to look forward to a time when everyone got on so well with one another, including nation with nation, that armies would no longer be necessary. Being the cynic I am, I commented that as long as somebody, somewhere, has something desirable that somebody else does not have, then armies will be needed: whether to defend what the haves have, or to try to win it for the have-nots.

    • Phil R

      There are many ways of providing a country with an a large effective army and a brief look at Britain two hundred years ago and we can see that we were masters at providing an army at minimum cost to the treasury and maximum material benefit to those willing to risk their lives as part of our military capability.

      We have a PC military and a big rule book. Big rule books and a PC mentality always costs lots of money.

  • Harley Quin

    Oborne did coin the phrase ‘The Political Class ‘ in his book, The Triumph of the Political Class’. Or so it is claimed.

    He is to be thanked for his identification of this incestuous and unpleasant tribe. That said, I concur with the statement that he is not an interesting writer on politics. At least, not interesting to people such as myself who haven’t got much time either our political system or for those who function within it.

  • Phil R

    I don’t agree.

    It seems to me that especially since the 2007 money tree went into overdrive, capitalism has not done so well for Britain and often wages have gone down in real terms and taxes have gone up for ordinary families.

    Capitalists on the other hand have continued to do very very well indeed and often for no other reason than they can get hold of this magic money created out of nothing.

    They then don’t pay anything like the portion of tax that the rest of us pay, because money buys bank accounts, advice and opportunities to avoid tax not open to the rest of us.

    Corbyn is on to something and I think it will resonate with voters unless we close loopholes fast.

    • forgotten_man

      I think we have reached ‘peak tax’.
      The depth and lengths that are gone through in avoidance is a good indicator of this.

      One question I have NEVER had an answer to is ‘ Is whatever a government demands in tax always justified?’

      it isnt infinite , this tax avoidance tree, as if you add additional corporation tax for instance you set up a chain of events.

      more tax = higher costs = (higher prices…guess who pays those..) AND/OR (cost cutting , redundancies, increased social welfare costs…guess who pays for those as well…)

      There is a group of people in the UK that is about the same as the population of Leeds that pay about 50% of all income taxes.
      If even 10% decided to live somewhere else then we would all be in deep trouble.
      The rich are already paying more….we need to be spending less.

    • Colkitto03

      I’m with you there. I would go as far as to say that true competitive capitalism in the sense we knew it when we were younger, has all but gone. I think of it now as ‘corporatism’
      Are there any real effective competitors to Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc? They all have dominant market positions.

    • Nick

      You are wrong to call, or imply, that it is fraud. The article is referring to people who follow the existing tax laws.
      i.e. They pay the taxes that HMRC agrees they should pay.
      By all means call for a change in the tax laws, but trying to whip up a class war against people who are successful is not a responsible attitude.

      • Phil R

        Too late to stop it. Corbyn has called them out and he will gain traction.

        Greed is the issue. The people in question can well afford to pay the tax and still live extremely well. My point is that they have the ability (that the 99% of us do not have) to avoid tax.

        In many ways I agree with you but I think that the excessive greed and hypocrisy of some is an easy goal for Corbyn

    • Nockian

      We don’t have capitalism. We have a ‘mixed’ economy. In other words a state regulated market plus welfare.

      The state creates loopholes for businesses because it realises the reality of not doing so would be a worse situation for any Government. Of course it must then shake it’s fists and condemn the sinful in chorus with the jealous, but it is not going to do anything about it, because of the damage it would do.

      Invariably the socialists will point to these loopholes and tell the population that it is the tax avoiders that are making their lives miserable-just as Marxists always do.

      The Conservatives are powerless to defend capitalism because they have never permitted it-they pay lip service to free markets in the same way as Adam Smith; that free markets are a necessary evil, but the ‘invisible hand’ will grant prosperity to all. The Conservatives are no less socialistic than Labour, they just approach it in a slightly different way.

      If the Conservatives had an understanding of the moral righteousness of laissez faire capitalism, then they could defend it. They would be defending reason, ethics, freedom, individualism and life.

  • Nockian

    As long as wealth is obtained by honest trading, then the producers of that wealth do not in any way make anyone else poorer. The words ‘wealth creation’ or ‘making money’ are direct references to the creation of something where there was once nothing, they do not mean it was made at the expense of anyone else.

    • Tethys

      Unclear: You conflate trading with creation and do not define the term honest.

      • Nockian

        Creation is the process of production of one form into another. It comes from the mind of the one individual who conceived it.

        Trading is the voluntary exchange of production between two parties. In a fair of exchange both parties get something they prefer more than the item they traded, hence both are wealthier from the exchange than they were before it.

        Honesty is the refusal to fake reality/Honest trading is that which is not ‘faked’. In other words it isn’t fraudulent, the goods are owned by the trader, they are what he says they are, there is no coercive force used either directly, or by using a third party such as the state to utilise coercive force.

        If I create a product out of the raw materials of the earth, then it becomes valuable to me-that is wealth. No one is poorer for my creating that product. If I then exchange that product for something that you have produced, then we both walk away wealthier than we were previously. Again, no one is made poorer by the exchange of goods.

        That is laissez faire capitalism in action, but we don’t have that in Britain, nor in the West as a whole. We have taxation and welfare – both corporate and individual. Everyone is acting rationally in this mixed economy, but the outcome is deteriorating productivity and falling wealth for the honestly productive -which is the same thing. If one can keep ever less of the thing he creates, then he will be unlikely to the effort into creating it in the first place. The more difficult something is to produce, the more likely it will be abandoned for less complex forms of production. The lower the form of production, the less valuable it will be due to supply and demand. Where there is government graft and lawful looting, then production will flow to those who are the least productive.

        That’s where we are now. Low productivity, crappy jobs in low tech industries, the corporations being kept afloat by money printing and state regulation preventing competition. People preferring to take Government handouts over low skilled, low paid jobs, or needing handouts in order to take those jobs.

        None of that is capitalism. This is why the majority of us see our living standards falling despite working harder than ever.

        • Tethys

          In my opinion:
          Your definition of creation is unclear.
          You defn of trading is okay
          Your definition of honesty lacks full context.
          I dont believe it always true that nobody is poorer through the creation of products from the ‘raw materials of the earth’.
          You confine yourself to discussing goods when we are largely a service economy.
          In some services the definitions are less appropriate still.
          The term ‘lawful looting’ iis emotive and lacks international benchmarking.

  • Tethys

    Is ‘gaming’ the tax System Moral, or Immoral?