A confession. Fifty years ago I sought to evade British income tax by depositing money I had recently earned in the USA in a Jersey bank account, newly opened for the purpose. It was my friendly Barclays bank manager who suggested the ruse, and – in my defence – I had already paid both Federal and State taxes on the money in America. I can’t remember how much I saved in this way; it can’t have been much.
But I suppose it technically puts me in the same boat as Nadhim Zahawi and Rishi Sunak; those two leading members of the current British government whose far more egregious tax avoidance – or is it ‘evasion’? I never know which – is causing political problems for them today. Zahawi claims that he simply ‘forgot’ to declare £5 millions of his income. Sunak protests that it was his wife, not he, who claimed ‘non-dom’ status – while living all the time in Britain – in order to protect their millions. Zahawi for a short period was actually Chancellor of the Exchequer, and therefore ultimately responsible for setting and collecting other people’s taxes – yours and mine. These are only two examples of the almost incredible level of ‘sleaze’ that is engulfing Britain’s deeply rotten government currently. Another is the revelation that the man Johnson appointed to head the BBC was a Conservative Party donor, and had helped arrange a £800,000 loan for him – ‘to help support his lifestyle’ – just before his appointment; and the couple of dozen charges of ‘bullying’ made against another minister, Dominic Raab, by civil servants.
And that’s without mentioning their enormous failings in the public sphere: migration, Brexit, the NHS, mishandling Covid, dismantling human rights legislation, provoking the biggest combination of industrial strikes since the 1930s, abusing Parliamentary democracy, annoying the Scots and Northern Irish and so endangering their beloved ‘Union’ (of the four nations of the UK); and much more.
Britain’s leading Conservative ministers are of course immensely rich – possibly the richest of any government ever; which is obviously the major factor alienating them from the majority of people they are supposed to represent, as well as to govern. (How on earth, incidentally, can anyone ‘overlook’ £5 millions? Or ‘need’ £800,000?) Another distinctive characteristic is the expensive ‘Public’ School education that most of them received, and at ‘top’ Public Schools at that – Eton, Winchester, Westminster – which really does put them on a different planet from us more ordinary Joes.
Dodging taxes comes naturally to these people, who are brought up to regard taxation as merely an incubus, which it is a mark of one’s intelligence and enterprise to avoid – obstacles in the great golf game of life; rather than as a contribution to the common good. Donald Trump once claimed that his own notorious tax avoidance was merely proof of his success as a businessman: ‘only little people pay taxes’. All of which is why, perhaps, we should never entrust rich people with the government of any country. I’d not have made a good politician at any time; but least of all when I was trying to cheat – or evade – the Inland Revenue.