It’s not just the chancellor who could be enjoying his last Budget.
His Treasury team are in the same boat. That includes Stephen Timms, the
three-time financial secretary – Alistair Darling’s point man on tax.
“Thanks for exasperating me,” journalist Andrew Neil recently told Timms and
opposite number Kenneth Clark while presenting an edition of the Daily Politics
show on the BBC. The three had been sparring over plans for tackling the Budget
deficit – but Neil grew increasingly impatient with the politicians’
evasiveness, like a headmaster unconvinced by schoolboy excuses.
This was a rare outing for Timms, but he should not have been too fazed – his
usual brief is Alistair Darling’s tax go-to-guy, which should have helped him
come to terms with his PR brief.
Not only that but Timms is currently stint in the role, remarkable for a
minister, but he has also worked at the Department for Employment and the
Department for Work and Pensions, as well as being chief secretary to the
His first time as financial secretary was in 1999 when the Treasury was still
run by Gordon Brown and when the future Prime Minister was establishing the
centralised command of Whitehall by No11 and the exchequer.
Timms was in place for a year before moving on and then recalled in 2004.
This lasted less than a year before he moved to the cabinet as chief secretary
to the Treasury. When he was dropped, Alistair Darling called him back to the
Treasury in 2008.
The interesting thing about Timms is that he is the contact between the
Treasury and the profession, the man who hears the complaints and attempts to
soothe the institute’s anxieties. Or, to phrase it another way, he is the man
tasked with convincing accountants that the government is doing the right thing.
Accountants being accountants, and tax advisers being advisers, that isn’t
the easiest thing to achieve.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Timms will have to campaign hard in his Newham constituency, but he does have
a decent majority at 13,155. As we grind toward the election, he’s been touring
institutes. He was at a lunch of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and gave
a speech at the ICAEW annual dinner – an opportunity to defend key policies for
his boss and he came out fighting. He said hard choices needed to be made and he
made no apology for the new 50% tax rate, or the hike in NIC.
He said: “I don’t agree that the new 50p rate of income tax will harm UK
competitiveness… In these circumstances, and for the time being, it is fair
Given he describes himself as a Christian socialist, this should be no
surprise. The big question for Timms is, will he survive if Labour retains power
after the election. So far he seems happy to serve where he’s pushed.
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