Even Hatters notices a stink
A taxing moral paradox
by Roy Hattersley
Whatever Ms Jowell’s eventual fate, the argument surrounding her husband’s business interests marks a watershed in Labour Party history.
The analyses of his activities, which have preoccupied the newspapers recently, have all described him as a specialist in tax avoidance, hedge funds and off-shore investments. Such is the transformation, for which Tony Blair must take credit, that not one commentator has expressed surprise that the husband of a Labour Cabinet minister should earn his living in this fashion.
If the Treasury operates in the way it did when I was a secretary of state, senior civil servants spend a great deal of time working out ways of closing “tax loopholes”. Mr Mills occupies his days opening new ones. We must assume that Ms Jowell, being an honourable woman, finds no conflict of interest in her husband working to frustrate the wishes of the Chancellor with whom she shares the Cabinet table. But she will, I hope, accept that the situation is a paradox.
Mr Mills, I understand, was himself once a Labour councillor and he retains his party membership. Does he, I wonder, believe that his party should welcome the rich making arrangements to reduce their tax liability? Or does he draw a distinction between David Mills the sharp lawyer and David Mills the social democrat? Whatever his answer, the most fascinating aspect of his position concerns not him but the party he supports. Twenty years ago — despite the legality of Mr Mills’s business and his wife’s apparent ignorance of his affairs — Labour would have been outraged by the way in which the Jowells pay their grocery bills. We, the cry would have gone up, can have no truck with tax avoidance. How times have changed.
The hypocritical and amoral conduct of our taxing elite was a point I was going to make, but it has more weight when it comes from an old Labour hack harking back to the old spotless idealistic days of Lord Kagan, Sir Eric Miller, T Dan Smith etc.