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.