Thursday 19 August 2010

Will ex-tax exile's withdrawal as Tory Treasurer increase pressure on Philip Green?

ConservativeHome reports the CCHQ announcement that controversial former tax exile David Rowland will not now take up the post of Tory party Treasurer.

Rowland now intends to spend more time with his business interests but the right-of-centre blog gives credit where it is due to a highly energetic Daily Mail campaign in derailing Rowland's hopes of succeeding Michael Ashcroft, the Lord of the blogosphere, in the formal role as Tory treasurer and perhaps as chief source of public controversy over the party's tax ethics too.

Tim Montgomerie blogs that:

Big questions need to be asked about CCHQ failing to carry out due diligence on this appointment.

Though it may not have taken so much due diligence. At the least, Rowland certainly had enemies in high places, as the enthusiasm of Tory sources for gleefully encouraging the Daily Mail's scrutiny demonstrated.

My favourite helpful insider's quote in the Mail's stories:

'David Rowland makes Lord Ashcroft seem like a nun,' said one senior Tory source last night.

But might what is sauce for the Tory goose also apply to the Coalition gander? For the announcement comes amidst much upset among LibDem MPs at the appointment of Sir Phillip Green to advise on deficit reduction efficiencies, for reasons captured succinctly in a carefully legalled Guardian editorial at the weekend.

Sir Philip is also – we must express this with care – a man who is careful to arrange his own finances so as not to needlessly benefit the common weal. In 2005, for example, the man whom Robert Peston dubs both a lovable rogue and the king of jackpot capitalism paid himself a tax-free dividend of £1.2bn from the Arcadia retailing business. Technically the dividend went to his Monaco-resident wife, in order to avoid UK Treasury attention, a tax saving to Sir Philip that has been estimated at £300m. That one dividend payment, as Mr Peston has written, was equivalent to what 54,000 people on average earnings would earn in a year, would build around 10 secondary schools capable of educating some 13,000 young people, or, if paid in an unlikely column of pound coins, would tower 2,350 miles about the Earth's surface.

There was a Guardian-Mail consensus on this question, with the Mail explicitly linking Cameron's relationships with both Green and Rowland in its own editorial.

The Guardian editorial also found much to praise in Vince Cable's earlier comments about Green's election interventions in the Tory cause. Cable said:

"I have no time for billionaire tax dodgers who step off the plane from their tax havens into the country where they make their money and have the effrontery to tell us how to vote and how to run our tax policies. If some of them came onshore and paid their taxes it would make a useful dent in the budget deficit.

Business Secretary Cable was not consulted about Green's appointment to advise the Coalition, about which he is unsurprisingly far from gruntled.

The Staggers blog quotes LibDem Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott making what all will agree is surely an impeccable point for any government concerned with deficit reduction:

Lord Oakeshott, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, has encouraged the rebels, pointedly noting that: "Governments, like businesses, need to maximise their revenues. Tax cheats and benefits cheats both cost taxpayers dear."

If Green is planning to step up his civic engagement, perhaps he might now want to apply to be Michael Ashcroft's successor as Tory Treasurer too.

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