Posts Tagged ‘labour’

Smear – unhelpful fact

‪    — ‬How to speak like a Corbynite: a helpful guide, Michael Deacon

When Theresa May announced in April 2017 that she planned to seek the House of Commons’ agreement to call a general election – hours after the message coming from ‘Number Ten’ had been no general election – I was far from the only person who viewed both the forthcoming campaign and election with dislike and distaste.

And, of course, viewed the eventual result drenched in the same sentiments.

Of course, May had on many previous occasions insisted that there’d not be an early general…

On the same day that the Commons voted to indeed hold an early general election, a lady who became known as ‘Brenda from Bristol’ famously summed it up for many: “You’re joking. NOT ANOTHER ONE?! Oh for God’s sake, I can’t, honestly – I can’t stand this.”

Indeed, her exasperation and frustration were shared by most of the people I knew; no one thought an election would solve anything. The government was trying to do the impossible and few thought that an election would make the impossible thing any less, y’know… impossible.

Well, no one other than Theresa May and her staff at Number Ten Downing Street, of course. And what do you know? It turned out that ‘everyone else’ was right and she, and they, were wrong.

So, yeah, I disliked the 2017 election. And I knew I would the moment it was called.

But I wasn’t dreading the election in the same way as I’m dreading the one we’re likely to have in the next year.

Whether it’ll be the first autumn/winter election we’ve had in almost fifty years, or whether it’ll take place in Spring 2020, an election is likely on the way. With an official working majority of one in the House of Commons, and an unofficial majority of who-the-fuck-knows-what-the-fuck-it-fucking-is – a technical parliamentary term, you understand – parliament is effectively paralysed.

Strictly speaking, of course, under the terms of the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act – a piece of legislation I naïvely supported when it was created – we already know the date of the next election.

It’ll be on 5th May 2022, five years after the previous election in 2017.

I don’t know anyone, however, who thinks that this pisspoor shitshow of a government and this toothless, impotent and incompetent parliament, will last until then. The FTPA does of course foresee situations, and permits a couple of circumstances, in which an election can take place earlier.

May used one of these in 2017 (the House of Commons votes by a two-thirds majority of all MPs) to get her early election. I find it fascinating, by the way, that it’s ⅔ of all MPs, as in you need 433 MPs – ⅔ of the 650 elected – to vote in favour, rather than merely ‘⅔ of MPs voting’. The authors of the Act really really wanted to ensure that both the government and the main opposition wanted an early election before getting one.

The other way an early election can, no must, be called is if a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government is carried, and in the ensuing two weeks, no one – neither the current government nor the Opposition, nor anyone else – can command the ongoing confidence of the House.

So, yeah, under either one of those two circumstances – both of which I suspect we’re going to face in the next year – we have an early election.

Last week, I wrote about how anger often brings certainty. A certainty that’s unwarranted, to be sure, but certainty nonetheless.

I ended the piece with the following:

I’m dreading a general election. Honestly. One’s likely to occur this year, and if not this year, then next.

And I’m dreading it, and the campaign that leads up to it.

It doesn’t anger me. It doesn’t infuriate me. It scares me.

And I suspect, before this run of blog posts is done, I’ll write about why.

Ok, time to write about why.

Long time readers of this blog may remember the following three blog entries.

From May 2015… it’s my party and i’ll cry if I want to…

From July 2015… ABC: Anyone but Corbyn

From September 2015… congratulations, mr corbyn… and goodbye

In the first, I related how, after 30-odd years of adulthood with an intense interest in politics but somehow without joining a political party, I’d finally done so. I laid out why, where I stood politically, and why Labour was the party I’d joined.

Towards the end of that piece more than four years ago, I wrote the following:

I’m not suggesting that people who voted Tory are evil, nor that they have no compassion; merely that they were wilfully or otherwise ignorant of the policies the government now seeks to introduce. Because if they voted knowing full well the policies that will now be put before Parliament, then I honestly don’t know what to say.

It’s an old, and usually false, saw to say that “I haven’t left the party, the party left me”, but for me, this government has done that for me.

I can’t see how the Tories will move back to the centre-right ground, its natural home I’d venture to suggest, within the next fifteen to twenty years. Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is.

Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

I’ll just repeat that last bit:

Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is. Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

So, yes, I joined the Labour Party mere hours after it became obvious that David Cameron’s Conservative Party had won the 2015 election with a working majority; barely, but yeah, he had a working majority. And scarcely had the election results sunk in when the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, resigned.

How quickly did he resign? Well, my ‘welcome to the Labour Party’ email still had his photo attached, even though, by the time it arrived, he’d already resigned.

So, an hour or so after I joined, the Labour Party was already planning their next leadership election.

Nominations ran from [effectively] that moment until 15th June. And by then, I’d attended several constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings, and quite enjoyed them.

The constituency in which I lived – Richmond Park – had never had a Labour MP; at the recent general election, the Labour vote had been at 12.3%. So it wasn’t exactly as if Richmond Park Constituency Labour Party ‘made a difference’ as to Labour’s position in the country. In truth, the seat had jumped back and forth between the Liberals/Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives for decades.

The CLP contained people from ‘the left’ of the Labour Party as well as people from the ‘right’ of the party, and all points in between, and had fairly vocal advocates of each position; in some ways, the make up of the local party was exactly as it should be; there were debates and some heated ones, but no more nor less than I’d expected, or wanted.

And then the leadership contest occurred. And everything changed.

I appreciate that as a new member, only a month or so into it, it’s kind of weird to say ‘everything changed’ when I only had two or three meetings under my belt.

But it’s true.

Everything changed. Where previously there had been heated debates, now there came nastiness, and allegations of cowardice, of callousness, or not being ‘true’ to Labour. Where there had been discussion and mild distaste for others’ positions, now there was utter contempt for the other position. And most of the nastiness and the contempt came from one faction within the CLP.

Because Jeremy Corbyn had entered the contest to be leader.

And while at that time, I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have approved of the nastiness, would in fact have decried the venom, which accompanied the positions taken by his advocates, I quickly realised that wasn’t the case. I came to the conclusion that while he might not have approved, he certainly had no issue with it.

Which brings me to the second of the posts above.

Now, I’d been aware of Jeremy Corbyn since the mid-1990s, I guess. At least I don’t remember paying much notice before that. I knew that an MP, a Labour MP, had invited convicted IRA members to the House of Commons after the IRA bombed a Brighton hotel and tried to assassinate the Prime Minister and a chunk of her cabinet, but I doubt I recalled that it was Corbyn who’d done so.

And I knew that a Labour MP had chaired a conference calling for the Labour Party to kick out (‘disaffiliate from’) Poale Zion (Great Britain) – the previous name of the Jewish Labour Movement – in the 1980s, but again, I didn’t recall it being Corbyn who was the Chair.

But when I ran CompuServe’s Jewish Forum, and helped run the UK Politics Forum, in the mid- to late-1990s, his name cropped up every so often, alongside that of Ken Livingstone, Paul Flynn, and a few others of similar political views. He was one of the ‘I see no reason to support the party leader just because he’s leader’ lot, the blatant hypocrisy of which is mildly amusing now, in retrospect.

And by 2015, I was well aware of his policy positions and his – at that stage, I still thought – complete and supreme indifference to others’, including his supporters’, overt and snide antisemitism.

I didn’t at that stage think that he was personally antisemitic, merely that he regarded antisemitism in others as… I dunno, as having a pimple on their nose, or crooked teeth, or having bad breath. Not ideal, perhaps, but certainly not a genuine problem, certainly not a deal-breaker. Their antisemitism, their blatant and clear antisemitism, was entirely irrelevant as to whether he supported that person, liked that person, campaigned for that person, called them ‘brother’ and ‘comrade’.

But I found myself more and more questioning my position, struggling to maintain it.

As more came out, as more evidence was revealed, of his wilfully ignoring the antisemitism of those who he supported, defended, campaigned for… I found it harder and harder to maintain my ‘he’s not antisemitic; he just doesn’t care if someone else is’ position.

But anyway, even if that position was accurate, as someone else asked me: would he ignore another form of racism? Would he accept it in his supporters, and in people he supported, if they didn’t like people of colour, say? Would he regard it as a deal breaker?

Because if the answers to those question are No, No, and Yes… well, then he’s treating Jews differently, discriminating against Jews… and there’s a word for that.

The hypocrisy became more obvious, and clearer, with every example. Here’s one: he utterly and unreservedly condemned anyone appearing on a platform with Nick Griffin, one time leader of the racist British National Party. There was no excuse, he maintained, for sharing a platform with him. “No one,” he said, “should be sharing a platform with an avowed racist and an avowed fascist.” Oddly, though, as Corbyn’s history showed time and time again, he had no problem at all sharing platforms with overt antisemites.

“Ah,” his supporters say, “he does that solely to challenge them.” Equally and appropriately oddly, there’s no record of his challenges. Funny that.

So I wrote that second post, laid out some issues I had with Corbyn, and said that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, vote for him, and that if anyone did, they were siding with his views on antisemitism. Or – at the very least – they were saying ‘I don’t care’ about his views on antisemitism and on Jews.

One thing that started to piss me off, and my upset only grew, was that he never criticised his own supporters for antisemitism; he never told them not to, or at least not in any way that supporters or critics took seriously, or were meant to. He spoke about antisemitism – once he had to – only ever in the abstract, criticising antisemitism and antisemitic acts without condemning those who carried them out, without calling those who committed those acts, said those things, posted those images, antisemitic.

And then I started noticing that he never condemned anyone as antisemitic. He’d say they were wrong, that he disagreed with them, but not that they were antisemitic, not that they were antisemites. It was kind of like watching someone condemn a lynching without criticising the KKK as racists. (NB the ex-Grand Wizard of the KKK openly praised and praises Corbyn re claiming his election as leader was a sign that people were recognising “Zionist power” and “Jewish establishment power”.)

A month later, I got the opportunity to speak to Corbyn, on a Radio 4 phone in they held with all the Labour Party leadership candidates.

I came away from the phone call even more convinced that at best – at best! – he didn’t give a shit about others’ antisemitism. He cared that no one identified him as an antisemite, but his supporters?

He claimed, repeatedly, that any antisemites didn’t speak for him, but as others have observed equally repeatedly, but with far more justification, the antisemites are convinced that he speaks for them.

And as to whether he personally was antisemitic?

Well, I wrote the following hypothetical offer to those who claim he’s not.

A right-wing MP, proud to be on the hard right of the tory party never makes an overly racist statement himself… but platform shares with known racists, hosts them in parliament, says it’s his pleasure & honour to host his friends & it’s a pity the govt banned other white pride racists (he thinks that a big mistake). He gives tv interviews to affiliates of white power organisations, and defends white pride people as “honoured citizens” “dedicated to peace and justice”.

This man on the hard right of the Tory party makes statements against racism, but only in the abstract, condemning lynchings but never criticising those who carry them out. The closest he comes is saying in interviews that he doesn’t always agree with them.

This right wing Tory MP says a man who wrote that “blacks are racially inferior & want to take over the white race” is an honourable man and he looks forward to having him for tea at the Commons.

What would you say of this right wing Tory? Racist or no?

(And if you’re British, and the name John Carlisle springs to mind reading that, well, you’re not alone…)

But here’s the thing: all of the stuff in that hypothetical above? There are direct parallels to stuff Corbyn’s done, said and advocated.

And that was before blatant, clear, evidence started coming later out of his personal use of antisemitic tropes.

(And as previous posts in this run have shown, use of an age old antisemitic trope, a classic sterotype, used to demonise Jews for centuries doesn’t cease to be antisemitic merely because someone says ‘zionist’ or ‘israel’ instead of ‘Jew‘.)

But anyway, Corbyn won the leadership, convincingly. Wasn’t even close.

And, as I’d discussed with the chair and secretary of the CLP, I resigned from the party, four months after I’d joined it. I quit a few hours after having been in the hall watching him win the leadership. And I wrote about why here, in the third post above; in sadness, slightly scared, but mainly upset.

I resigned because I could see what was about to happen, what was going to happen.

I resigned because I knew from that moment that antisemitism would no longer be an automatic deal-breaker for membership in Labour, nor even to hold appointed or elected position within the Labour Party.

I resigned because I couldn’t stomach the idea of belonging to a party led by a man who welcomed antisemites, who campaigned for them, defended them, supported them.

And, since 2015, he’s continued to do so. He’s continued to defend antisemites, continued to campaign with antisemites, continued to defend antisemites, to call them comrade and brother, and to let his advocates, his surrogates, promote antisemitic conspiracy theories, to trivialise antisemitism, to allege conspiracism… and not done a single, meaningful thing to stop them.

Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Leader in 2016.

And despite losing that general election he won in 2017, he’s still there.

And he’s likely – despite the huge number of times over the past two years that I’ve been assured otherwise – to be there, leading Labour, at the next election.

Because every time more evidence comes out of his personal actions, his own defences of antisemites, there’s always an excuse.

  • “No, no, he didn’t mean that,” his defenders will say, after previously maintaining that he’s a decent honest man who always says what he means, and means what he says.
  • “No, no, he didn’t lie; you misunderstood his statement.”
  • “No, no, the moment he found out that Paul Eisen was a holocaust denier, he stopped attending his [non-holocaust related] events. The photos of him attending afterwards? Smears!”
  • “No, no, he doesn’t agree with the person who promoted the Blood Libel; he just defended and campaigned for him”
  • “No, no, he didn’t say ‘Jews’ don’t understand irony despite living all their lives in Britain, he said ‘zionists’ don’t even though that made no sense whatsoever…”
  • “No, No, he doesn’t agree with the antisemitic statements made… and he said so at the time; It’s just an unfortunate coincidence that no records exist of that…”

And “how dare you attack an anti-racist?”

Yeah. Right. An anti-racist (except when it comes to antisemitism) who’s spent his life speaking out against racism (except when it comes to antisemitism) and who condemns racists (except when it comes to antisemites) and who called racists… racist! (except when it comes to antisemites)

And Labour continues to re-admit antisemitic member, after antisemitic member, continues to lift the suspensions of antisemitic councillors and activists, and those who do get expelled? Labour never says they’re ejected because they’re antisemitic.

And activists, Corbyn fans, continue to blame Jews for the antisemitism and claim it’s mostly malicious claims.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election. (See, you didn’t think I’d get back to that, did you? Ah, ye of little faith.)

Because after four years of Corbyn-led Labour, I just don’t believe that anyone with the slightest interest, or who’s paid the slightest bit of attention, is unaware of Corbyn’s at best apathy towards, and supreme indifference to, other’s antisemitism, and his personal complicity and use of antisemitism. I just don’t believe it.

Which means that if people are voting Labour they either a) don’t care about all of that, b) they actively agree with it, or c) they think it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn into Downing Street. None of those fills me with anything other that unfettered dread and unmitigated fear.

Corbyn supporters aren’t short of fucking good reasons to not vote for the Tories. Hell, I agree with most, the overwhelming majority, of those reasons. They’re very good reasons to not vote Conservative.

But I’ve got a pretty fucking good reason to not vote Labour while Corbyn et al run the shop.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused that by not voting Labour, by not trying to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, I’m choosing ‘the jews’ over the poor, the disabled, the ill… which of course ignores that there are poor Jews, ill Jews, disabled Jews.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused of being a paid Israeli agent, of knowing that Corbyn’s a decent, honest man, and of maliciously making up claims of antisemitism inside Labour.

During Corbyn’s tenure as party leader, I’ve been told that even if I believed Labour was antisemitic ‘head to toe’ (not a claim I’ve made) that as a Jew I should still vote Labour “because the Tories are worse”. Think about that for a moment: I was told that, as a Jew, I should vote for an antisemitic party.

Through the looking glass? We’re through a whole fucking factory of mirrors.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Because while, right now, I might – just about – be able to handle the idea of someone I know and like voting Labour, I genuinely don’t know if I can handle, if I could handle, people I know and like advocating others to vote Labour, working for Labour MPs, campaigning for Labour, campaigning to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten Downing Street.

It’ll end friendships. It will damage, fracture, and end some of my friendships, people I’ve been friends with for years… in some cases, decades.

Because at best, they’ll effectively be saying “I don’t care about antisemitism against you and yours, budgie” “or well, yes, it’s not nice but it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn and Labour into Number Ten”.

And at worst they’ll be saying “I agree with him when he uses antisemitic tropes about ‘hidden hands’ of influence and when he supports antisemites.”

But yeah, that’s why I’m dreading the next election.

 

It’s Tuesday tomorrow. If you’ve been following the blog through the run, you know what’s occuring tomorrow. if not, then all I’ll say is the usual… which is, of course, “something else tomorrow.”

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

A while back, I wrote a post entitled wanted: one effective opposition. This was long before I joined the Labour party, long before I had any intention of joining a political party, and certainly long before I knew that Ed Miliband’s Labour party would lose the 2015 general election. Within the post I made several points about the the bedroom tax, tax avoidance and the hypocrisy of politicians. I still stand by everything I wrote, and nothing’s got much better since.

However, the effectiveness of the opposition has undoubtedly got worse in the past couple of months. Possibly, we should have expected it as Labour goes through one of its now semi-regular navel gazing processes while it decides who’s going to be their next leader and deputy leader. As I wrote the other day, I’m still unsure who’ll get my vote for the former, and that vote will play a large part in who I vote for as deputy. If it’s Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper (and I’m leaning ever so slightly towards Cooper) then I believe they’ll need an attack dog as deputy, and there’s no one in the deputy leadership race who comes close to Tom Watson on that score. If it’s Andy Burnham who gets my vote, then I’m pretty sure I’ll cast the deputy leadership vote for Stella Creasy. But that’s for the future. I’m attending my first leadership hustings on Sunday and I’m hoping that the experience will give me some push to my decision.

In my piece the other day, I wrote:

But you know what, I’ve some sympathy with one very Corbyn view of things: that the purpose of the Labour party isn’t to just roll over and accept the welfare… well, more accurately, not well, and not fair… policies of the Conservative Party. So, the Tory government was elected. Right. OK. That doesn’t mean that the electorate agreed wholeheartedly with the offering made by the Conservatives. It means that the offering from Labour didn’t convince the public, a very different thing indeed. 

The important thing there is in the first couple of lines: the purpose of an opposition party isn’t to accept the government’s presentation of things as facts. Further, the purpose of an opposition party, especially five years out from an election is, guess what, to oppose.

Would someone like to let Harriet Harman, the interim/acting leader of the Labour Party know this essential truth? It’s Harman who explained her committing the Labour Party – at least in the immediate future – to not fight the child tax credit cuts and certain other welfare reforms by saying the party could not “oppose everything” and that “We’ve got the Budget coming forward next week and a number of bills that the government is bringing forward, whilst I’m interim leader I have to decide how we’re going to respond to those.” She said that Labour’s big defeats in the last two elections meant it could not adopt “blanket opposition”.

You know what, Harriet, for someone who’s been in opposition for twenty of your thirty-three years in Parliament, I’d have thought you’d have figured out that the purpose of opposition is to oppose. You’re there to hold the government to account, to make the government exert some bloody effort to get its legislation through; you’re definitely not there to make it easy for the government. If the party agrees with something the government does, then you use the procedures of the House to improve the legislation. What you don’t do as an opposition is whimper quietly, roll over, expect a tickle on your tummy and and then play dead.

I have rarely been as disappointed in a leader of the opposition, temporary or permanent, as I have been by Harriet Harman in the weeks since the election. Look, she may be demob happy, she maybe can’t wait to get out of the position of responsibility. Tough; this is the job she accepted when she stood for deputy leader. If she wants to resign, fine, go ahead, let there be another temporary leader until the election. Hell, there’ll only be one PMQs before the leadership result is known, and you can let Chukka do that one, since he’s not standing for leader this time.

But please, please, please... EITHER start opposing and doing your bloody job, OR step aside and let someone else do it. Because right now, the job of opposing the government isn’t being done properly by the official opposition. And it needs to be. Good government requires strong opposition. And whatever the official party of opposition currently is… it’s presenting itself as weak as a three day old malnourished kitten.

I mentioned that last year, I wrote a post entitled Wanted: one effective opposition. I ended that post with the following:

This should be the time when the official opposition should be challenging the government every bloody day. And they’re not. At all. They should – less than a year out from the next general election – be ripping the Government a new hole daily. 

Do I want a Labour party in power? I don’t know – show me their next manifesto and I’ll tell you.

Until then, I’d be content with them proving they actually bloody want the job.

Right now, Harriet Harman is doing nothing to convince me that’s changed.

I’m driving up to Skye shortly, to stay at an old friend’s house. And apart from walking around doing some aimless wandering and driving to the more distant parts of the Isles to do some aimless wondering, I’m going to be chained to my bluetooth keyboard. I’ve got a shedload of writing that I need to do, and there’s nowhere better to write than where I’m going to be, for lots of reasons.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s rare that I write about politics, and even then it tends to be more about the political process than my own politics and beliefs. But eight months out from the next election, I find I’m getting angrier and angrier about one thing in particular. Not the bedroom tax1, nor the tax avoiders2, not even the rank hypocrisy3 from all sides.

But since I’ve mentioned those three, let’s get them out of the way before moving on.

image1The bedroom tax
Yes, it’s a misnomer; it’s not a tax. If anything, the actual sickening nomenclature by which it’s referred to by the government is more accurate. Or at least it would be if it was an extra amount paid to those on housing benefit who live in social housing, what used to be known as council houses. But it’s not an extra amount. Neither, though, is it a tax; it’s a reduction in the benefit paid. But I guess that’s not snappy enough for a title.

Thing is, I don’t see anything wrong with the measure in principle. The government’s argument makes perfect sense. Now, before you jump down my throat or spit at the screen, I’m talking about the basic principle of the tax/subsidy/reduction in benefit, not how in practice it’s being implemented. Of course there should be exemptions for those who need a room solely for medical equipment; of course there should be exemptions for disabled people with carers; of course there should be exemptions for temporary situations. And, quite important this, OF BLOODY COURSE it shouldn’t apply in any situation where nowhere for the family to move to! It would be a controversial (though, as I’ve said, certainly arguably justifiable) if there was spare capacity in the [public or privately owned] housing market. But when there’s no spare capacity? It’s illogical, foolish, unfair and morally indefensible.

2Tax avoiders
Before I write anything else, let’s get it straight, there’s a world of difference between individuals and companies when it comes to tax avoidance. And even once those have been discussed (as I’m about to) I’ve changed my mind on whether or not tax avoidance is a good thing or bad. More about that in a moment.

imageOh, and if the government outlaws “aggressive tax avoidance” and makes it illegal, it’s no longer tax avoidance in any way that counts. At that point, it’s just “tax evasion”. It’s a simple rule: tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion is illegal. You can’t have illegal tax avoidance; it’s an oxymoron. (As opposed to just “a moron”, which describes quite accurately those who write about it from a wilfully ill-informed position.)

OK, individuals. First off, a famous law case, many years ago, is often said to be what kicked off tax avoidance as an industry. How long ago? How about 1934, when Judge Learned Hand wrote in a judgement:

“Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

However, one could argue that there is a moral duty, that it’s part of the civil contract, that people pay their taxes and that they do so in acknowledgement of what Elizabeth Warren, the junior Senator from Massachusetts, said when elected:

imageThere is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

None of which I’d disagree with. Because people have moral codes by which they live. Some may be immoral, some amoral, but there are morals the effect of which everyone lives under, through and with.

Now we come to Companies. I’ve found it almost amusing how the very people who loathe and detest the idea that companies could be people (see recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly the Hobby Lobby decision) are the very same people who say that Companies should have morals and should pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. (More about that term in a moment.)

First off, companies don’t have morals, don’t operate under a moral code, and can’t possibly do so. Because it’s illegal for them to do so. Companies, depending upon in which jurisdiction they operate, are bound by territorially-specific legislation and company founding documents to act for the benefit of… who?

The government? No.
Their employees? No.
Their directors, then? No.

Their shareholders. Not individual shareholders, of course, but as a body. That’s it – that’s in whose benefit the company is obliged (note that, obliged) to act. It’s very possible, in fact I’d say certain, that if a company paid more tax than it was legally obliged to do, the shareholders could sue the company’s board of directors for giving away money that is properly theirs, as the owners of the company. After all, that money could have been used to pay out dividends to those very same owners of the company or could have been reinvested to increase the value of the business, and thereby the wealth of the owners.

image“Fair share”. Oh yeah, I said I’d get back to this. UKUncut among others have said that companies should pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. I’ve always been irritated and puzzled in equal measure by the use of this phrase. Could someone please define it? And not by offering synonyms, but by actually explaining what they mean. Because it seems to me that it’s great as a slogan and utterly useless as a policy suggestion. Do they mean the company shouldn’t take advantage of reliefs specifically offered to companies to invest in certain industries? Do they mean that companies shouldn’t get a tax break on the money spent to research and develop medicines, or new technology? Do they mean that companies shouldn’t be able to write off assets over a period of time? Or do they mean that companies simply shouldn’t be able to… to…

No, what they mean is that companies should pay more tax. That’s it. That’s all. No sensible, practical suggestions how this should occur without overwriting company legislation and centuries of case law. Just that companies should pay more tax. Still it’s always easier to slogan paint than solve problems, eh?

I mentioned that I’d changed my mind on something to do with tax avoidance. And I have. For many years, certainly for all the years I was in the business of accountancy and then as a financial director, my view was that if it was legal, it was fine for a company to take advantage of reliefs and tax breaks offered. No matter how convoluted, if it was legal, it was ok.

I’ve amended my view on this for one simple reason: I realised that tax avoidance schemes fall into two simple categories: call them ‘considered’ and ‘cockup’.

Considered tax avoidance is, let’s agree, where a government has fully intended and deliberately put into legislation a tax break or a tax relief that they fully desire companies to take advantage of. An obvious example would be film production. Movie companies can choose to film in any number of countries. If a film is being made in a country, however, they’ll employ a number of people – cast, crew, etc. – and these people will spend money in the country; there’ll be payroll taxes paid to the revenue service. And all the associated benefits that come along with a production, direct and indirect benefits. So a government will often offer tax breaks to film companies in order to induce them to film in their country. I see nothing wrong with this in principle. As I say, the government fully expects the benefits to outweigh the money they’re voluntarily (and again, I stress this, deliberately) forsaking.

Cockups on the other hand are precisely that; a mistake in the drafting of the legislation that leaves it open for a smart accountant to take advantage of a gap in tax law just to save their client from having to pay their full amount of taxes. It could be a mistyped sentence, or an entire passage in the law. Or it could be that most horrible yet inevitable law: The Law Of Unintended Consequences. Either way, anyway, it’s an error, a blunder, a cockup. And no company, no individual should have the right to unfairly benefit from a mistake of government, just as no individual or company should be unfairly punished for a mistake of government.

If only there was a way to know what a government intended when they introduced legislation.

Oh wait. There is. In the UK, it’s Hansard; in the US, I believe it’s called the Congressional Record? And there are briefing documents by the truckload issued by government departments. It’s not difficult to discover what the intentions of government were.

So here’s where I stand at the moment. And I remind you that ‘illegal tax avoidance’ doesn’t exist; it’s legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion.

Considered tax avoidance is tax avoidance; perfectly legal, perfectly justified in my view. Cockups are tax evasion from the moment it’s discovered it was a cockup. I’m not sure – I’m willing to be persuaded on this one – that someone taking advantage of a cockup should be retrospectively punished; mere payment of the tax avoided (avoided, yes) should be sufficient, and the loophole closed. Future attempts to use any ‘closed’ cockup are flat out evasion and should be punished to the full extent of the law.

3Rank hypocrisy
Yeah, I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. Not about to repeat myself, so you can read my views on it here.

So, if you remember way back when, I said I’m angry. If it’s not about the above, what am I angry about? Well, it would be nice if the official opposition was making those arguments, and holding the government to account for once. The more I consider the current state of the Labour Party as our official opposition, the angrier I get.

imageI’ve no brief for Labour – I find many, but not all by any means, of the policies they espouse to be ones with which I fervently disagree. But then I could honestly say that about any and all of the major political parties in the United Kingdom. No, what pisses me off is that for all my faults, I tend to believe in the value of a strong opposition. Not “to keep this Government honest”; I think that it would require several torture chambers, daily enemas and being hooked up to portable lie detectors to achieve that, same as with any government.

But a more than halfway decent opposition is important to ensure that the public knows at least some of what the Government is up to. It’s been some time since a Government has treated the House of Commons with any respect, as anything other than a necessary duty. But successive executives have so emasculated Parliament (with their fawning acquiescence) that unless and until there is serious Parliamentary reform, nothing will change. The current Speaker has gone some way, some little way, to helping MPs in the chamber of the House of Commons at least try to do this, but it’s very little, very late.

It was no different almost fifty years ago when Richard Crossman wrote in his diary:

Cabinet. The Prime Minister had decided to take my procedure package of parliamentary reform. Actually it took nearly two hours and was a ghastly discussion. How ghastly you certainly wouldn’t get an idea from the Cabinet minutes . . . The moment I’d finished George Brown said, “Well, it’s asking a terrible lot of us, Prime Minister. We’re busy men.” . . . He was followed by Minister after Minister round the table simply saying how busy they were, how they were harassed by all these Cabinet Committees and how they simply couldn’t be burdened with any more work by the House of Commons.

imageMost of these Ministers were individually as well as collectively committed to parliamentary reform. Yet, after two years they’ve become Whitehall figures who’ve lost contact with Parliament. And of course what they’re saying is pure nonsense. The Executive rides supreme in Britain and has minimum trouble from the legislature. Perhaps it’s because Parliament is so entirely subordinate to the Executive that my colleagues were saying, “We can’t allow this Parliamentary Party to bother us.”

And what, after four years in power during which a coalition Government has enacted legislation from a cobbled together coalition agreement instead of a manifesto with a mandate, does the Official Opposition party spend the majority of their time doing?

Well, it seems to me to be an even split between defending their leader to those who dislike him intensely, and briefing the media against that very same leader.

This should be the time when the official opposition should be challenging the government every bloody day. And they’re not. At all. They should – less than a year out from the next general election – be ripping the Government a new hole daily.

Do I want a Labour party in power? I don’t know – show me their next manifesto and I’ll tell you.

Until then, I’d be content with them proving they actually bloody want the job.