Ministers' pious assertions around tax and transparency have come back to haunt them, writes Kevin Reed
MARGARET HODGE’S ROLE as Public Accounts Committee chair was a memorable term – notoriously for castigating a number of tax advisers and HMRC officials, accusing them of either incompetency (the taxman), or helping facilitate tax avoidance (the advisers).
But was her ultimate aim to embarrass the Tories? Her ire certainly engaged the public, and maybe she foresaw how awkward this would make life for Conservative party members linked to holdings that in turn, could benefit from low tax rates or be viewed as secretive.
Perhaps I’m being ultra-cynical – then again, it’s politicians we’re talking about here.
During this time she had to face constant questioning of her own position as a beneficiary of shares in her family’s company Stemcor.
And so we come to the revelations from the Panama Papers. There is no suggestion that the prime minister David Cameron did anything ‘wrong’ in holding and selling shares in an offshore trust, nor his father in originally setting the trust up. Some advisers have suggested that his investment in the trust was unlikely to be an avoidance mechanism, or ‘scheme’, anyway. There was no suggestion that Hodge, her family or their company had done anything ‘wrong’ either.
But Cameron, chancellor George Osborne and many other politicians have been more than happy to obfuscate, muddying the waters between evasion and avoidance, with some either implying or openly stating that money squirreled abroad is a bit mucky. In truth, this style of attack has been stepping up by politicians since Brown’s era as chancellor, when ‘avoision’ became an in-joke in the tax world.
However, as the expenses scandal showed, we want transparency from our governors.
But, more importantly we hate hypocrisy from them all – let alone just the PM. As such, any politicians calling ‘hypocrisy’ at this current time should be mindful that what goes around comes around.
Kevin Reed is head of editorial at Contentive Media