Secrets and Taxes

So Rishi Sunak is demanding a ‘rigorous enquiry’ into who leaked his family’s tax status. It seems to be a peculiarity of our culture that such matters should be considered to be so private and personal as to merit this degree of secrecy. (Is it the same elsewhere?) This is despite the fact that personal wealth and how it’s ‘earned’, taxed and and dispensed have vital social ramifications – and also roots – that make them of crucial public interest too. No man – or woman, for that matter – is ‘an island’, in the words of John Donne; or is truly ‘self-made’. Society contributed to their riches; so society should be allowed to know.

So, in my view everyone’s payslips and tax returns should be open to perusal by any of their compatriots; as I believe they are in Sweden, where it’s considered to be a ‘democratic’ desideratum – as it surely is. It follows that Sunak’s going to these lengths to hide his financial ‘secrets’ shows how fundamentally undemocratic his whole way of thinking is. And also selfish, petty and personal, when there are so many other questions, affecting millions more people, that are surely at least as deserving of ‘rigorous enquiry’. Child poverty, NHS underfunding, and the necessity for ‘food banks’, for starters.

Of course this is yet another ‘late-stage capitalist’ thing. Capitalists – in Britain at any rate – used to avoid direct participation in government and politics, in favour of occupations that could make them richer. Now they’re stepping up to take overt control over us. Sunak is not the only one. The current Health Secretary, Sajid Javid (also from Asia originally, which is a little discomforting), is the latest cabinet member to be revealed as having used the device of ‘non-dom’ status, and a US ‘green card’, to ease his personal tax burden when he was a banker in America. The monster is taking over at the top. Surely in the light of this no-one can any longer dispute that Marx was essentially right?

The very latest indication of this is the current threat to Channel 4. For American readers, Channel 4 is a ‘public service’ TV station that isn’t paid for by Government, but by advertising and by selling its programmes, and so doesn’t need financial ‘owners’ and investors to keep it going. It broadcasts excellent, innovative and popular programmes, commissioned from independent producers; and is in good financial health. One of its distinctive qualities is its ‘balanced’ reporting of news events, enabling more scrutiny of Britain’s current government than is found either on the BBC – scared of the government’s control over its license fee – or ITV. Yet the current ‘culture’ secretary, Nadine Dorries – a truly ridiculous figure, best known for her ignorance and for being filmed eating an ostrich anus on some silly ‘reality’ TV programme (but, to be fair, it must have been difficult for Boris to find intelligent ministers when his choice was restricted to Brexiters) – is dead set on ‘privatising’ it, and so turning it into a commercial operation like all the others.

There’s nothing wrong with Channel 4 that could justify this. Opponents are saying that the real motive behind its proposed privatisation is revenge for some of its programmes that have expressed or implied criticism of Boris and his government. But another might be more purely ideological: neoliberal opposition on principle to non-capitalist enterprises, even if, and perhaps especially if, counter to the claims of neoliberal ideology, they actually work. It reminds me of Thatcher’s privatisation in the 1980s of the dear old Trustee Savings Bank, mentioned in my last post: ‘owned’ by its customers, and working well, but not making a personal profit for anyone, and so ripe for privatisation on that ground alone. That marked the virtual end of ‘social’ banking in Britain (the TSB is no more), and – to my mind – also marked a narrowing of choice for all of us, forced as we now are to choose between only truly ‘capitalist’ banks. Which – as we all know after they fucked us all up in 2008 – aren’t necessarily as beneficial to broader society as neoliberal ideology would have us believe.

Sunak’s elevation to the Treasury, and the values he’s revealed while there, both in his last mini-budget and in the priority he seems to be giving right now to his own personal family fortune, are telling indications of the ‘late capitalist’ stage in our national story that we’re now at. Again: well spotted, Karl! Although I’m not quite so sure about the rest of the old devil’s predictions. Revolution looks a while off yet. A socialist revolution, that is; and in a UK whose collective brain seems to have been turned – by the capitalist press – to mush.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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