Wednesday, 29 April 2015

3 simple steps to reduce tax avoidance

With only weeks to the election, voters should be clear on at least one issue: this Tory-dominated coalition has never been serious about dealing with what Margaret Hodge has frequently called the  'Tax avoidance industry'.
    Of course, there has been an abundance of the usual heart-rending rhetoric from the Tories, Cameron and Osborne in particular; the public has been inundated with descriptions of how vile the practice is, with Osborne`s "morally repugnant" taking some beating. Then there`s the tax avoiding companies, with the focus presumably on Starbucks, being told by Cameroñ that it`s time to 'Smell the coffee'! Budget after budget has introduced new coalition measures to reduce the huge total of 
£35 billion being deprived of the Treasury each year by tax avoidance, with the latest, the so-called 'Google tax' estimated to raise a measly £570million by 2019!
Clearly,  when it comes to tax avoidance, it`s just another example of the Tories taking us for mugs. Should the election set the them up for another five years of government, there is absolutely no reason to expect anything other  than a bumper time for the avoiders, be they rich individuals, profit-hiding companies, or the accounting firms making billions out of selling avoidance schemes.
  However, a new government could easily take three simple steps to make the problem both more manaģeable and mòre tŕansparent.
   A new goveŕnment depàrtment focussed entirely on tax matters, with a minister reporting back to the Commons and the Cabinet on a weekly basis, would at least indicate serious intent. A popular choice for minister would obviously be Hodge, whilst a further sensible appointment would be the tax expert, Richard Murphy, in an advisory capacity. 
   This Ministry of Tax Affairs would not only be on top of all Treasury figures realating to tax, it would have responsibility for all actions taken by HMRC, the agency in charge of tax collecting. Any of the `sweetheart deals` whereby companies and individuals reach agreement on a payment of a lump sum, rather than pay the full amount avoided over years, would first have to be agreed by the Minister, with all the necessary disclosure and publicity. Similarly, all companies avoiding tax would gain due publicity in parliamentary discussion, and this could act as some further deterrent. The more the public is made aware of the scale of the companies` avoidance, the more likely they are to take avoidance measures of their own, such as avoiding making purchases from them!
    The Ministry could also develop further Murphy`s idea of a Fair Tax Award, for companies which regularly pay the correct amount of corporate tàx, which they can use for self-promotion.
 A third step certainly never reaches the realms of rocket-science, but it seems, nevertheless, to have been too difficult for the coalition to comprehend: the majority of the electorate do not agree with tax avoidance, knowing the contribution tax plays to a civilised society, so they would certainly support a government which refused to award any contracts to corporations known for their tax avoidance practices. Companies refusing to pay a living wage to all employees should suffer the same fate!
  Three simple steps which could transform the way tax is not only collected but perceived by the public; it is not a matter for accounting firms to decide how much revenue is collected by the Treasury, and the sooner governments take full responsibility, the better.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Why Tories cannot admit the truth

Of course, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, the Tories are misleading voters "about the level of cuts they plan to make" should our worst nightmares come true and Cameron is returned to power for another five years. They are past masters at ignoring empirical evidence, drawing up over-ambitious plans for deficit reduction, and denying their failures and callousness, so it is no surprise that they give a "misleading impression".
   They admit to £12bn of welfare cuts and £13bn of savings from government departments, but refrain from adding such details as:
reductions in child benefit
lower housing benefit for the millions in low pay, living in private accommodation with exorbitant rent
yet more cuts and suffering for those receiving incapacity benefit
         Labour should be making more out of this, warning that Tory plans to reduce government spending to levels last seen in the 1930s has less to do with deficit reduction than the ideological desire to shrink the state and achieve their aim of a low pay, low tax economy. A return to the 19th century system of laissez-faire is on the cards, with yet more increases in the gap between rich and poor, and unregulated exploitation of the working people. There is no such thing as "compassionate conservatism"! And as for the rubbish spouted by Osborne about "northern powerhouses", don`t get me started!!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Letter on Mediterranean tragedies

With yet more terrible deaths in the Mediterranean this week, your editorial was  right to lambast European politicians for not only refusing to rally "around Italy's admirable Mare Nostrum search and rescue programme", when possibly the "biggest human upheaval since world war two" is taking place,  but for failing even to treat the migrant issue as a priority. (Observer view on the human tragedy in the Mediterranean, 19/04/15)
  The British government refused its support last autumn for a typically callous reason that it would only encourage migrants to risk their lives in even greater numbers, revealing again their willingness to ignore  factual evidence when it suits them.
Sadly,  Labour is equally guilty of refusing to address issues deemed electorally unimportant,  even though there are obvious points to be scored with the adoption of an humanitarian approach. Presumably, fear of hemorrhaging even more votes to Ukip is the reason preventing our selfish politicians from making a stand. And their feebleness does not end at the Mediterranean!
Foreign policy has largely been ignored in the election campaigns of all the major parties  because of the common assumption that it is not a vote - winner.  Yet, wouldn't Miliband, for instance,  appear more prime - ministerial if he rejected the traditional UK policy in the Middle East, based as it is on American and Saudi prejudice? The Trident issue clearly needs more public debate, whilst having the courage to stand up to Merkel over Greek claims for war reparations would reveal more bottle than any European leader has shown. A pledge to restore the ill - gotten Parthenon marbles to their rightful owners would not go amiss, either!
It's amazing how politicians can on the one hand treat voters like mugs, when expecting them to believe, for example, in their compassion,  but are frightened of alienating the more gullible and bigoted of our society. Has there ever been a more urgent need for a general election to give the country a British government with an actual ethical foreign policy? Has there ever been, in modern times, less chance of it happening?

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Brief comment on Miliband`s foreign policy

Whilst Miliband is correct to criticise Cameron`s foreign policy as "small-minded isolationism", it is difficult to see Labour`s "hard-headed multiculturalism" as being much different. (Cameron a pessimistic isolationist,24/04/15) Will Miliband, for example, commit the UK to an independent policy which does not follow US policies unfailingly, whilst simultaneously supporting Israel? Will he open the future of Trident to a public debate, or even have the courage to recognise officially the massacre of 1.5m Armenians as "genocide", something which 25 countries have already done, excluding naturally the US and Israel. Time to end this ridiculous triple alliance!    
  Miliband could even show bottle and stand up to Merkel by supporting Greece`s claims for war reparations, and whilst at it, commit a Labour government to the return of the Parthenon marbles to their rightful owners.


Tristram being Gove-like yet again

Sadly, I was correct in suspecting that a half page devoted to news involving Tristram Hunt was bound to include much of the same old nonsense to which we have become accustomed since his appointment to the shadow cabinet.(Labour could abandon GCSEs within a decade, Hunt reveals,23/04/15) Every time he makes an announcement like this one, he reveals far more about his ignorance, both of what is happening in the majority of state schools, and of what the majority of their pupils are like, than about his party`s education policy. Where exactly are the schools whose "gates close at 2.55pm", or the students who lack "character and resilience"? I know of none of the former, and in my forty plus years of teaching in the state sector, I saw very few of the latter, especially as they became so adept at "dealing with the unexpected" every time a government`s new educational initiative involved a change of course, subject, syllabus or teacher! 
   It may well "drive him mad" to see these so-called "fortress schools", if indeed they exist, so why doesn`t he visit them and discuss problems with the heads and staff? What makes, I suspect, many of us even madder is to see a future education secretary miss yet another opportunity to praise teachers and congratulate everyone involved with the huge improvements made in state education in the last twenty years or so; he much prefers, with Gove-like predictability, to emphasise the "long tail of underachievement", something based on Pisa tests where students from a variety of nations are given different questions, and their results somehow compared. A commitment to address teachers` ridiculous workload would not go amiss, either, and how about an announcement to meet and work with teachers` union leaders on a regular basis to sort out the pay and conditions` problems? After all, he is the Labour spokesperson for education, so it would be refreshing to hear some comments on education which do not sound as if they were drafted by Keith Joseph!


Friday, 24 April 2015

Criticism of Tory philosophy +d`Ancona`s article

The editorial on the economy's role in the election concluded that the choice was "not a perfect one but nonetheless stark", between an increased or reduced role for the state. (the Guardian view on Britain's choices:the economy, 18/04/15) A little surprising, however,  was the insistence on using rather esoteric language when clarity was clearly preferable. At least Aditya Chakrabortty didn't hold his punches when he wrote about Osbornomics back in 2010, with his description, "taking the boot of the public sector off the neck of the private sector". (Why George Osborne sounds like Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, 05/10/15)
     You are right to say that the Tory philosophy of viewing the state as "crowding out the private sector" failed, but why not be less obscure about the facts? The Tories want to see a return to a system more akin to 19th century laissez-faire,  where regulation and inspection were practically non-existent, and where the results were the exploitation of the workers, huge levels of inequality,  and low taxes.
The response from business to the lowest corporation tax of the G7 nations, a rate fully 18% lower than in America, hasn't exactly been a success,  either, with companies still having maximisation of profits as their raison d'etre, the largest pay gap in Europe between average worker and CEO, employees paid so little they have to rely on benefits, and tax avoidance policies sufficiently widespread to be described by Margaret Hodge as an "industry".
It is a "stark" choice, but let's be quite clear: it's between the continued exploitation of the working people, and a society which at least acknowledges the important role government has to play in curbing the greed of business!

Matthew d'Ancona is frequently not only annoying because his column leans a little too far to the right for my liking, but because it often includes dubious statements laced with inaccuracies. (You think coalition government was bad?  What's coming is uglier,20/04/15) The number of parties in this election campaign vying for our votes may well resemble "the political theatre of continental countries", but the suggestion that their intention is to "tame a Labour or Tory regime" indicates the author is spending rather too much of his time on the Cameron campaign trail. That may be the aim of the duplicitous Liberal Democrats, but try suggesting to the Green or nationalist  parties' candidates that their real aspiration is to prevent a future Labour government bringing in radical legislation! 
d'Ancona apparently is not aware that the Labour proposals fall short of the wishes of most of the electorate, as they do not include any nationalisation of rail or energy companies,  or even a financial transaction tax. It is far more likely that the ambitions of most of the minor parties is to drag the Labour party further left, admitting austerity measures have failed,  and into adopting the necessary policies to transform banking and business cultures which see their profits and tax avoidance their raison d'etre. 
Indeed,  the best hope for a transformative and radical government now appears to be, not a Labour government with a large majority, but, in the words of d'Ancona, a "rainbow pact", a coalition dominated by Labour but relying on support from minority parties. Far from "taming" Labour, they could well supply the essential reminder of where its priorities lie!

Criticism of Tory campaign

Perhaps if,  as Andrew Rawnsley says,  it is "not a good look" for the Tories "to be the apologists for the super-rich avoiding tax", they should have thought of that rather sooner than a few weeks before the general election. (Party manifestos: furtive schemes speak more eloquently than flowery words,12/04/15)
Despite having had 5 years of being bullied into action by Margaret Hodge's Public Accounts Committee, the Tories have succeeded only in watching the annual tax gap rise to approximately £70bn, whilst cutting HMRC staff by 20 per cent.
   Tory MPs may well now be complaining that their "robotically repetitive and narrowly negative messages" are not winning them votes,  but what did they expect?  If your party is dominant in a coalition government,  and reduces tax rates for the rich, imposes austerity measures which have greatest impact on society's most vulnerable, begins the destruction of the welfare state and NHS, and furthermore promises to take government spending back to levels last seen in the 1930s, you should expect to be despised by the majority of the electorate. For the Tories,  there isn't a "more positive gear", and even if one is conjured up in their manifesto, voters, mindful of what happened with VAT and the NHS last time around, will not be fooled again.
Now is not the time for Rawnsley or anyone else to be showing sympathy for the most callous party in modern times! 

Labour weak on private rent

Whilst supporting Poll Toynbee's enthusiasm both to endorse inclusions in the Labour manifesto like "a minimum wage of more than £8 an hour, or no cuts to tax credits", and to describe the election as one where there has "rarely been starker political choice", I find it strange that no criticism was offered of the feeble proposal regarding private rents. (Puzzled by the manifestos? The Tories and Labour have swapped clothes,  14/04/15) With the opinion polls showing the party roughly level with the Tories,  an opportunity to gain important extra votes appears to be being scorned.
 With millions living in rented accommodation, often in squalid and unhealthy conditions, and often paying 40% or more of their disposable income in extortionate rent, a Labour pledge for a "clamp on rent rises" seems totally inadequate. Wouldn't a more worthwhile suggestion from a party desperate for votes be for all matters relating to renting and owning property to be placed under the auspices of a Ministry of Housing,  which would be given responsibility for inspecting all rented accommodation. Depending on size, condition and locality, all such property could be placed in bands, similar to council tax ones, with the appropriate level of rent set by the government. The same rules would apply to student accommodation as well, thereby giving young people an extra incentive to vote Labour. 

It would also provide another reason for all fair minded voters to remove from government the parties which have disgracefully allowed this recent form of Rachmanism to flourish. They will not forget,  either,  what happened the last time a Tory government promised to replace sold council houses "with a more affordable, cheaper property on a one-for one-for basis"; it simply didn't happen, and Labour must ensure everyone remembers! (Conservative manifesto to offer 1.3m families right to buy housing association homes,14/04/15)

2 letters:Lib Dem election hypocrisy + CBI again

As Nick Clegg has already cleaned up all the  available prizes for duplicity and disingenuity, it seemed unlikely he could surpass previous levels; however, the prospect of election embarrassment, and a political career cut short, has clearly inspired him to trawl at new depths.(Nick Clegg :George Osborne is a very dangerous man,06/05/15) Does he really expect voters to return to the Lib Dem fold simply because he now views future Tory cuts as being "socially and morally unacceptable"? Are we all expected to forget the role he and his party played in passing through parliament the most callous legislation seen since the days of Thatcher, the most unfair tax cuts for the ultra-rich, and the beginning of the destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS? Are we to suppose the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance, within weeks of the coalition`s formation, had nothing to do with the constant support his party gave to the cruel and unnecessary austerity measures? 
      Clegg has evidently no more respect for the electorate than the Tories, whose election strategy appears also enshrined in the belief that the voters are mugs. As a consequence,therefore, it is totally impossible for any of us to recall that it took almost three years of coalition-inspired austerity before any pennies dropped, and Clegg uttered those infamous words, stating that it was time to "hardwire fairness into government policy"!
   Clegg`s accomplice, Danny Alexander, will not be alone with "breathtaking hypocrisy" prominent in their thoughts, and one can only opine that, even if forming a government takes  "a lot longer" after the election, the time will be well spent, as long as the duplicitous Lib Dems are excluded.

The proposal by Ed Miliband to allow workers on zero-hours contracts to `convert their contracts into a regular job after only three months instead of a year` is praiseworthy, but what does the fact that employment law specialists are already warning that bosses will sack staff `just before the right to a full contract kicks in`, tell us about attitudes prevalent among businesses today? (Give zero-hours workers regular contracts after 3 months-Miliband,01/04/15) It appears that workers are merely exploitable material, there to be used and cast aside, so that the companies` policies of profit-at-all- costs can be continued.
     Typically the CBI director-general, John Cridland, is not content with describing Miliband`s idea as `demonising flexible contracts`, and, naturally, `ẁide of the mark`, but even threatens the probability of `a return to day-to-day hiring`. How much longer can we allow company bosses to hold the country to ransom like this? Whilst the Tories want to return government spending to levels last seen in the 1930s, business clearly wants employer/worker relations to re-visit the Victorian era!
      Cridland would  serve the economy`s interests far better if he instructed his corporate chiefs to pay all of their workers a living wage, to demonstrate much greater restraint in relation to their own renumeration, and, of course, pay the correct amount of corporation tax, which, he should not need reminding, is around 18 percentage points below the rate paid by companies in America!

Unpublished Guardian letter on Labour`s fear

The excellent article by Nick Davies correctly urges politicians to 'protest against news organisations that print propaganda and call it journalism', but, sadly, their `chains of fear' explain more than mere reluctance to take on the likes of Murdoch.(At this election, British politicians can afford to speak out against Rupert Murdoch,07/04/15) In fact, there is a strong argument suggesting that the lack of boldness exhibited by the Labour leadership, for example, is the main reason for their party`s lack of lead in the opinion polls. After all, when Miliband did dare to organise the `sabotage of the Murdoch bid for BSkyB`, his poll ratings rose significantly.
      What a shame the aptly-named `chains of fear` have prevented Labour from pledging an all-out attack on the banks, when a large majority of the electorate consider them the true cause, both of the financial crisis, and the subsequent economic problems. The obscenely paid bankers in charge of their `profession` have shown themselves totally incapable of ridding their culture of greed, corruption and customer rip-offs, yet no radical proposals have emanated from Labour, even to participate in the EU`s Financial Transaction Tax!
  Similarly, Labour weakly attempts to defend itself from right-wing assertions that it is anti-business, when an offensive against business, and its current practices of forcing employees on to benefits because of low-pay, high profit strategies, and avoiding paying the correct amount of corporation tax, despite extremely generous rates, around eighteen percentage points below those American firms are expected to pay, would clearly reap huge electoral benefits. Hasn`t the penny dropped, yet, that the hemorrhaging of votes to Ukip, SDP and the Greens can partly be explained by the party being insufficiently dissimilar from the Tories?

     Nick Davies is right to castigate politicians for failing to stand up to Murdoch`s right-wing media empire, but don`t let us kid ourselves that this is the only example when courage deserts them. Would that it were so!

Guardian letter on Osborne

Simon Jenkins makes many excellent points supporting the removal of the 'fiscal archaism' that is non-dom status.(The Tories must stamp out the leech of non-dom status- before Labour does,08/04/15) His use of New York as an example of a city with a 'far more severe tax regime', yet not short of thousands of 'super-rich' residents, is particularly pertinent in view of scaremongers` suggestions that the rich will leave the UK bag and baggage.
However,Jenkins also makes a surprisingly ludicrous point, that George Osborne can claim to be 'tougher than any of his predecessors on tax avoidance'. Can this really be true of the chancellor who has overseen the cutting of staff at HMRC by 20%, and who, for all his 'morally repugnant' rhetoric, has done nothing to reduce the tax gap , which even Jenkins acknowledges to be approximating 70bn pounds a year? Is it nearer the truth to state that Cameron and Osborne only broached the subject of tax avoidance, after being put under pressure to do so after excellent work by investigative journalists and Hodge`s Public Accounts Committee. Osborne`s much-vaunted Google tax is only estimated to be collecting 557m pounds by 2019, and accounting firms, having representatives on Treasury tax committees, are still allowed to profit to the tune of billions through ádvising' on tax avoidance. Does this really sound as though a government has been hard at work for five years tackling the problem?
History will almost certainly judge Osborne as the Chancellor who scorned the opportunity to gain massive public support by tackling tax avoidance properly; consequently, he well may be seen as the man who cost his party the 2015 election!

Labour`s foreign policy

One thing very noticeable about the current election campaign is the lack of prominence given to foreign policy, and the reason for this has to be the fact that the policies of the three main parties are so disappointingly similar. There are differences over Europe, admittedly, but these are mostly related to economics and immigration.
At the start of the century, Labour proudly advocated an ethical foreign policy, but a few interventions by Blair soon put a stop to that, and since then, with the exception of Miliband's prevention of the bombing of Syria, Tory/coalition/Labour policies have largely coincided. Should we Labour voters be happy about this situation?
Miliband has declared himself rock solid in favour of maintaining the Trident nuclear option, just like Cameron, but vague statements about deterrents have proved insufficient in answering questions about scenarios where nuclear weapons could be the effective solution, or how the need for American approval can possibly increase British prestige. Then there are the issues of whether the hundred billion or so could be more wisely spent, and whether skills necessary to build nuclear submarines are transferable. I rather like the idea of British state owned cruise ships regularly docking in the popular Mediterranean ports!
In the Middle East, preventing bombing in Syria should have marked the beginning of a foreign policy which aimed for long lasting peace in the area, but with no objections forthcoming, tacit approval has been given, instead, to more intervention, this time by the Saudis in the Yemen.When defence Secretary, Hammond, promised the UK's support for the bombing by the Saudis and the many other Gulf dictatorships, "in every way" it can, shouldn't Labour at least have protested, warned about the need for caution, or made some symbolic gesture? When the Yemen's Houthi fighters have the apparent but modest backing of Iran, questions have to be asked about the point of the recent, much lauded nuclear deal with Iran if we actively encourage Saudi Iranian conflict. No answers emanate from Labour, however.
Have Labour politicians voiced disapproval over the hundreds of American drones dropped on the Yemen because of Al Quida's presence there, even though it is well documented what happens to terrorist support in the event of external attack? Whilst the US and her allies support the Sunni powers in the Yemen against Shia Iran, the opposite occurs in Iraq, with backing for Shia fighters against the Sunni Isis group. Shouldn't Labour be advocating a UN peace initiative, a conference, or something?
Lack of support for Tsipras' s Greece, albeit not unexpected in view of opinions about austerity, are nevertheless, disappointing, too. Does every mainstream politician in Europe lack the bottle to disagree, even mildly, with Merkel? Two minor opposition parties in Germany have voiced support for the Greeks' claim for reparations owed from World War Two, but from Labour the silence is deafening. Surely the payment of Germany reparations offer a sensible and fair method for the Greeks to start balancing their books? On a similar subject, a Labour pledge to return the Parthenon marbles to their rightful owners would not only show them to be on the side of justice, it would prove a much needed boost to the Greek economy.
So much is being ignored , so much is not being said, one can only wonder if a Labour government's foreign policy would be noticeably different in any way at all!