Monday, June 25, 2012

Tangled Webs

"Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax." So said Lord Tomlin in the 1936 Duke of Westminster case.

Likewise, the Revenue can try to arm itself with as many weapons as it can, with legislation and in the courts: "substance over form", the Ramsay Principle, General Anti-Avoidance Rules, and so on.

So, if someone can engineeer a tax planning scheme which passes muster with the tax chappies and results in paying only 1% income tax, such as the one used by alleged comedian Jimmie Carr, I say good luck to them, especially as I pay only one tenth as much myself. There will always be those who have some sort of issue with this, but that is just sour grapes.

However, in Mr. Carr's case, he had made considerable mileage (i.e. money) taking the piss out of Barclays Bank and others for, you guessed it, only paying 1% tax on its earnings. The dilemma for Mr. Carr, who naturally blamed his accountant for his negligence in saving him money, was whether to carry on paying only 1% tax but to lose his credibility as a comic and therefore some of his future earning power, perhaps even to become the butt of others' jokes himself, or to opt out of the tax saving scheme and keep raking it in. In the end, claiming the moral high ground, i.e. choosing to avoid having the piss taken out of him and becoming redundant, he has opted out of the tax saving plan, but has not gone so far as to repay the tax saved so far. (And nor would I.)

In the meantime, however, one David Cameron, whose family wealth has not been harmed by the odd structure along the way, saw a populist opportunity and slammed Mr. Carr for his "morally wrong" behaviour, this just after he had told the French that their millionaires were welcome to move to Britian to save tax. His apparent hypocrisy was compounded when he went all schtumm after Tory supporters such as Gary Barlow (no, I hadn't heard of him either) were found to have used the exact same scheme as Jimmie Carr. The FT sums it up here.

But Mr. Cameron's troubles for the week did not end there. The supreme arbiter, albeit self-appointed and state-subsidised, in the UK of moral rightness and wrongness, the Church of England, or at least its leader, Rowan somebody, has said in his new book that Mr. Cameron's "Big Society" idea is mere "aspirational waffle". One has to wonder, however, whether someone whose employer has been peddling the idea of an invisible friend for centuries, and doing very nicely out of it, thank you, is best placed to make that particular criticism.

It would also be a reasonable question how the 30 pieces of silver this Rowan somebody-or-other will make out of his book, which ventures into secular issues, are any different from the 30 pieces of silver the "Bishop" of Southwark, aka Mervyn something, sneered about the Monty Python team making all those years ago when they dared to venture into "his" territory with the still hilarious Life of Brian.

Perhaps, after all, Cameron should take being criticised by Rowan, Merv and their ilk as a compliment. It may be the only one he will get.

No comments:

Post a Comment