My first visit to the USA was in 1970, or around then, to teach ‘summer school’ at the University of Rochester, NY State. It was in the middle of the Vietnam War; one of my students was a refugee from a famous riot at Kent State University, where he had (he said) led the rioters in a burning of the American flag. (I won’t give his name, in case the Feds are still after him.) Other students missed classes in order to travel to New York City – or it may have been Albany: in any case a day’s travel – to argue for their exemption from the ‘draft’. – Interesting times, for someone on the safe edge of things; only slightly marred for me by the summer parties around swimming pools where I was virtually the only one not ‘high’ on drugs, and consequently boring. The best thing I took away from that trip was an LP of Arlo Guthrie’s wonderful and draft-related Alice’s Restaurant, which I still have. And some money.
It’s the money I want to write about here. I still feel guilty about it; and the current row about Mr and Mrs Sunak’s money has reignited that guilt. It was paid to me in the US with taxes (Federal and State) deducted; but still a fairly tidy sum to bring back to the UK. On my return I took it in to my bank to deposit; only for my bank manager – one of the old breed, a bit like Captain Mainwaring – to tell me I might be liable to British tax, on top of what I had paid in America. The way to get around this, he explained, was to open an offshore account, and deposit the money there for a year. So he fixed that for me; and so for a year I held an account in a Barclays branch in Jersey. After the year was up it was transferred back, UK tax free. I can’t remember the sum involved – it was fifty years ago, remember – but I think I used it for a deposit on my first house. It was obviously peanuts, compared to Akshata Murty’s millions; but it makes me a tax dodger in the same category as her, and as the tax avoiders we on the Left are so fond of criticising today. It probably makes me a bit of a hypocrite.
After this I changed my bank to the TSB, which was the only mildly socialist bank I could find at the time (the Co-op didn’t have a branch near me), and remained so until Thatcher stole it from its depositors, privatised it, possibly illegally; and it was bought up and destroyed by those capitalist bastards at Lloyds. But that’s another story.
I must say I felt qualms even at the time about my Jersey account; but no-one else seemed to be bothered. The ethos then was that you were entitled to employ any devious trick available to you to avoid tax, and that you were a bit of an idiot if you didn’t. Didn’t Trump say something like this? ‘Only little people pay taxes’? As an ex-banker, Rishi may well share that view. Which makes it pretty ironic – that’s the kindest word I can find for it – that he should be the man in charge of all our taxes.