Believing in the power of education

Stephen Mitchell

Leader, Speaker, Trainer, Consultant, NED

By - Stephen Mitchell

Societal hypocrisy

The media over the last week has been full of news stories relating to 11m or so pages of leaked information in relation to a firm of solicitors in Panama that allegedly supported tax avoidance/tax evasion. It has been something that I think we have all known has been going on for a number of years, after all, they are called tax havens for a reason, – albeit legally, a way to avoid or minimise tax liabilities.

However, this has now morphed into what has seemed to be a witch hunt against the political masters that we have. First of all, let me clarify, I am in no way an apologist for any of the political parties or leaders, nor am I condoning or condemning their alleged actions. I have a stance of keeping the party I vote for private, but I will be open about what I believe in.

As far as I understand it, Cameron has paid tax on all income/gains that he has had, declared it all in the proper way, and even sold his shares, (and paid taxes due) in order to avoid allegations of hidden agendas. His mother gave him money after the death of his father, and used a perfectly legitimate tax planning vehicle to do so. Woe betide anyone that says it is wrong for parents to want to pass on money to their children and minimise the amount of tax paid whilst doing so. That, in my book is not a tax “dodge” or “avoidance”, its just downright common sense tax planning. In the same way that using an ISA is good tax planning. Is it tax avoidance? Well, technically, yes, but its not one that anyone would reasonably have a problem with.

We all have a moral duty to pay our fair share of taxes, its part of living in a reputable, and legitimate society. Using basic tax laws in the country to minimise tax payments is fine, and in this case, parents giving their money to their children, I see no issue with. Using complex tax arrangements and moving money overseas just feels manipulative, particularly when they’re not transparent, that does cross the moral rubicon. There is no accusation that I’m aware of that Cameron has indulged in complex overseas financial arrangements to minimise/avoid paying tax. Yes, he had shares in his father’s company that operated in a tax haven, but the shares themselves were not avoiding tax. And he paid tax when he sold them. (or, he would have done had he actually made enough out of them to go over the tax allowances he (and everyone) gets for capital gains.

There seems to be a belief that Cameron should be castigated for being wealthy. That’s crazy. Why should he be? Britain seems to be a country where we want to criticise success and wealth rather than celebrate people that have done well for themselves. Should the PM publish his tax records? Well, he has now, and I’m not sure what I make about the fact that he has. I read a fascinating article recently about how tax information for everyone is freely available in Norway. Now that’s transparency! If that was the law here though I think, and fear, that the UK media, and us as their consumers that drive their actions, would be creating scandal out of all politicians and celebrities financial affairs. And, as long as their financial activities are legal, that’s a shame. Ultimately, we’ll have intelligent people choosing not to enter public service/life, and we’ll all be worse off as a result.

I don’t want someone like me, with the same background as me representing me in government, or running the country. I want someone more intelligent than me being the person facing down the world’s other leaders, and I want someone that is adequately able to understand and represent me, and other people, to be my MP. That person doesn’t need to be a carbon copy of who I am.