WATCHING the YouTube video uploaded by the ‘WeAreIntruders’ protesters as they taunt former HM Revenue & Customs tax secretary Dave Hartnett is far from comfortable viewing.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the alleged ‘sweetheart’ deals he struck, the stunt feels gratuitous and does little to further protest’s cause.
Instead, it just amounts to little more than the juvenile, schoolyard goading of a man celebrating a milestone.
The protesters – and there have been many against the deals Hartnett struck – may have had a point, I don’t know. They maintain the deals saw the public purse lose out on £20m in interest from Goldman Sachs alone, nevermind the money they say was due from Vodafone and the three other deals in question.
It should, though, be pointed out that the National Audit Office has since ruled the outcome for the public purse was good, but criticised the lack of clarity in the process by which they were reached.
In bursting into the hall at New College, Oxford, and presenting Hartnett with a ‘Golden Handshake’ award for ‘services to corporate tax planning’, WeAreIntruders weren’t saying anything new or interesting. They did didn’t add anything to the debate. It just served to make Hartnett a sympathetic character.
There are, in fact, striking parallels between this incident and the pie attack Rupert Murdoch was subjected to when he was brought before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which saw Murdoch go from a cold, calculating and ruthless mogul to a beleaguered, doddering and sympathetic old man.
Hartnett cut a disconsolate figure as the protesters, dressed in black tie garb and posing as representatives of Goldman Sachs and Vodafone, gleefully sang For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, replacing the line ‘so say all of us’ with ‘so say Goldman Sachs’.
Hartnett has perhaps never been the subject of ire on the scale Murdoch experienced, but ire nonetheless has been directed his way, and perhaps justifiably. However, engaging in such puerile, needless and, in truth, nasty tactics is far from conducive to reasoned, intelligent debate, and is more likely to drain their potentially worthy cause of any credibility.
Calum Fuller is tax correspondent for Accountancy Age and Financial Director.
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