The Weekend Debate: Should election candidates have to declare their tax records?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

The race to be London mayor took a fresh twist this week when the leading candidates pledged on BBC Newsnight to release their tax records. Lib Dem mayoral candidate Brian Paddick declared himself very happy to publish full details, which appear here on his website:

Brian Paddick has nothing to hide and is very happy to be open and transparent about his income and tax returns as a registered sole trader. His figures show he has never attempted to use any complex arrangements to dodge paying anything less than full tax on his earnings.

Not that the release of records is putting an end to the controversy, with Boris Johnson’s 7-figure earnings attacked by The Guardian and Ken Livingstone’s crafty tax avoidance scheme attacked by those closer to home at Labour Uncut.

Without doubt a precedent has been set — it’s hard to imagine a future campaign for mayoral office in London or beyond not to include a demand for the candidates to ‘publish or be damned’. And if not mayors, why not also potential prime ministers or those standing for their party leadership?

In the pro-publishing camp is the Daily Telegraph:

… in an age when there is so much suspicion of the political class, it should be a basic requirement that those whose decisions reach into every wallet in the land – who claim, as the Chancellor has, to find tax avoidance “morally repugnant” – can show that they are subject to the same rules as the voters. We urge all three party leaders to follow Mr Livingstone’s grudging lead, and embrace the transparency that they have so frequently advocated.

In the anti-publishing camp is Matthew Barrett at ConservativeHome:

I am very keen for more working class MPs to enter Parliament, and have a greater voice at the top of the Party, but scaring the well-off out of politics, a very possible side-effect, does not seem fair or reasonable. There is no suggestion that those who are successful in business are intrinsically less able to formulate policies to benefit everyone in society, but making candidates disclose their tax returns will soon cause a witch-hunt for wealthy candidates every general election. We should discourage it.

What do LibDemVoice readers think…?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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17 Comments

  • Yes and no.

    I can see the argument that lots of other candidates in other countries do this as a matter of course. Tax avoidance and evasion are so endemic over here tho, that someone taking the (entirely justified) position of becoming incorporated into a limited liability company, so as to limit their liability, would face accusations of tax avoidance.

    This might prevent people owning small businesses from standing and I think that’s a shame. Really we need to look at reforming the stupidty of National Insurance, roll it into tax and then equalise the Personal Tax and Corporation tax regimes so there is no financial benefit for a sole trader becoming a Ltd Company.

    So it’s a complicated answer. I want small business people to be represented on the councils and in Parliament, so I want to do everything to encourage them to stand. I don’t think it’s a simple answer.

  • Andreas Christodoulou 7th Apr '12 - 10:48am

    As the coverage of Ken Livingstones tax arrangement – completely free from fact based reporting including a sadly replicated post here at LDV with mimal information or knowledge behind it – shows, this is a terrible idea.

    The media will be happy to report complete crap as it suits them and will happily seize on completely standard and non-avoidy tax schemes and report them as if they present a 30% tax rate saving.

    I was just highly disappointed when LDV did similar last week with a similar situation involving Ken’s political donation with no knowlecge of the facts behind it.

  • Stephen Tall 7th Apr '12 - 11:18am

    Andreas – You’re welcome to fill in the facts about Ken’s arrangements here. I’d be interested to read a defence. From everything I have read he has carefully and entirely legally organised his finances to minimise his tax contribution. Nothing wrong there except he has a history of very publicly denouncing politicians who do exactly that.

  • Tony Dawson 7th Apr '12 - 11:30am

    Everyone in Norway has their tax records on the internet for everyone to see. Nobody has died as a result.

  • paul barker 7th Apr '12 - 12:28pm

    On the Norway example, fine, if everybody does it. The idea that only politicians should have to disclose their income is illiberal. Its one more step on the road to people in public life having no right to privacy.

  • I’m with Tony Dawson. Everybody should declare their tax returns. If not everybody, then certainly anyone who donates to a political party should. Think how many political funding scandals could have been avoided if parties were nervous about taking money from people with money and embarrassingly low levels of taxable income…

  • “Really we need to look at reforming the stupidty of National Insurance, roll it into tax and then equalise the Personal Tax and Corporation tax regimes so there is no financial benefit for a sole trader becoming a Ltd Company.”

    The voice of sanity.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '12 - 10:05pm

    So Matthew Barret at Conservative home thinks that publishing tax returns would scare the well off from politics.

    Why is that?

    Do we really want this sort of person representing us?

    I think that it is an excellent idea.

    Maybe we could start by checking how many of the current cabinet and MP’s use offshore tax havens.

    It was enlightening to see how many `MP’s and Peers have interests in private Health care companies. The publication of tax-returns is likely to be even more enlightening.

  • You can see how many MPs and Peers have interests in things like private health care companies they have to register them in the decleration of members interests.

  • Chris Davies MEP 9th Apr '12 - 10:22am

    I’ve been publishing my tax returns on my website for a couple of years now.

    In emphasis of my political insignificance, no-one has noticed.

    Can’t see the problem with those in receipt of public money doing so, but I would argue that that should apply also to EVERYONE in receipt of public money – over and above an amount to be determined annually by Parliament but that would certainly embrace doctors, head teachers, ‘senior’NHS officials, ‘senior’ local government works/civil servants and military brass.

    Chris

  • I think they should be published. I also think that the tax returns of former MPs should be published for 10 years after they leave parliament so we can see all the jucy post parliament jobs they get in the areas they’ve been “regulating”.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 10th Apr '12 - 11:14am

    I am amazed to see Liberal Democrats supporting this idea. is this not a civil liberties issue? Are candidates for public office not entitled to their privacy as much as anyone else?

  • Are candidates for public office not entitled to their privacy as much as anyone else?

    Actually I think not. They are seeking a position of the utmost privilege. Paid for by us and with power to expropriate our property and turn us into criminals. I used to think we should just accept them as mere humans like the rest of us, complete with foibles. I strongly defended David Laws on those grounds. But I have changed my mind. The positions they seek preclude that. Imperfections should lead to instant dismissal if not criminal charges for fraud or misrepresentation and if nobody then wants to stand, so be it, we can run our lives on our own :) They face plenty of competition, it’s not like we are short people who could do just as well and as many that want to try. Small is the gate and narrow the road and all that…

    I’m only half joking, but you’ll need to guess which half!

    Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others • Edward Abbey

  • Nick (not Clegg) 10th Apr '12 - 4:02pm

    @ Chris Davies EP

    “Can’t see the problem with those in receipt of public money doing so, but I would argue that that should apply also to EVERYONE in receipt of public money – over and above an amount to be determined annually by Parliament but that would certainly embrace doctors, head teachers, ‘senior’NHS officials, ‘senior’ local government works/civil servants and military brass.”

    As a former public servant who values his privacy, I should never have joined the LibDems if that had been LibDem policy when I did (and I certainly would not have assisted in the “Little and Sad” byelection). If that is the direction in which the party is now moving, I’m very glad no longer to be a member thereof.

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