Vince: I’m not stepping down (but…)

Vince was on the Today programme this morning mainly to talk about the revelations that HMRC advise against giving honours to tax avoiding celebrities – something that he thought was right in principle.

However, he was also asked about his ideas for reforming the party and, specifically, how much longer he would be leader.

I’m not stepping down. I’m making a speech next week putting forward some reforms to the way the party functions.

So far, so good.

But then he was asked a direct question about whether he would be fighting the next election.

Yes, if there is one in the near future. I’ll be making a statement at the end of next week about my own plans in relation to those reforms.

That’s not going to end the speculation about his future. He will have to be very careful to craft his remarks on Friday in such a way that they don’t overshadow the primary objective of the party at the moment, which is to stop Brexit.

It certainly sounds from what I’m hearing that reform agenda is on quite a slow burn. It’s unlikely that decisions will be made on much of the key stuff before Autumn 2019 and there will be substantial consultation within the party before anything is even put to Conference. This work will go on in the background while we deal with the Brexit stuff.

He was then asked if he would like there to be a non parliamentary leader of the party

That’s one of the options that is being couched. There are attractions and problems with it. I think the principle of widening out political parties and attracting in new talent is a good one. We have to think through the technicalities of it.

Did he think it was a good idea in principle, though?

He then started to talk about, maybe, ten years hence:

The political system nay well be evolving but the principle of openness,  of looking out, of wider recruitment is an attractive one and it’s one of several ideas that is being booted around and I’ll be talking about it next week.

On the issue of the tax avoidance, he had this to say:

It seems perfectly reasonable to me that the Inland Revenue should be taking a tough line on abusive tax avoidance.

One of the key developments in the Governmentt I was part of was that abusive tax avoidance as opposed to traditionally illegal tax evasion was outlawed. Legislation was passed which stated that if schemes were set up that were technically legal but had loopholes which enabled people to flout the will of Parliament then the Inland Revenue should go after them.

It was a toughening of the regime. There are some quite controversial cases going through the courts at the moment but the principle is right and the public is fed up with abusive tax avoidance by individuals and companies and they want something done.

What about Government trying to stop these details becoming public?

It’s reprehensible. One of the steps forward this morning is the fact that the Information Commissioner has made transparent something that was previously hidden and done by hints and nudges. The principle of transparency is surely right. I’m surprised and disappointed the Government was trying to hide it

It think it tells us that the government isn’t terribly keen on transparency and that is clearly wrong.

I think the fundamental problem here is we’ve grown up with idea that tax avoidance is legal and evasion is illegal and there’s a clear distinction. There’s a grey area in between and particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, the  public became increasingly concerned about large scale abuse, Parliament acted, the government acted in my time and we cracked down on the banks who were operating industrial scale tax avoidance and we stopped them doing it.

What about celebrities not being given the chance to defend themselves?

Well I think that’s why bringing whole thing into open is healthy because it enables people to challenge things that way. I mean this is a difficult area. What’s happening with Honours committees that operate through the  Cabinet Office is they are trying to weigh things. People may well have been involved in tax avoidance schemes but they may have done wonderful things in their lives and they have to weigh these things against each other.

I think also that what often happens is that the individuals concerned may not be aware that they have been involved in aggressive tax avoidance schemes. They hand over their affairs to accountants who say that it’s legal so they get on with it so some of these celebrities wonder why they have caught up in it. But it is surely right that if they have benefited from large scale tax avoidance  that the Inland Revenue should be going after them.

You can listen here from about 1:32 in.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Remarkable that an idea can get trailed (effectively launched) in the media, members get online surveys asking for our views about it, and only now someone realises that no-one has actually worked out the “technicalities” – i.e. whether the proposal can actually be made to work?

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Sep '18 - 8:42pm

    I think Vince should probably step down. Who in the party is responsible for almost ignoring Labour’s turmoil over anti-semitism? We should have been hammering them on it yet all I really see is criticism of their position on Brexit. As important as Brexit is, it isn’t everything.

    The party isn’t simply a pro-EU pressure group and needs to take the gloves off and start hammering against the other parties’ weaknesses.

  • Martin Land 1st Sep '18 - 9:51pm

    @Ian. Sounds like Brexit

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Sep '18 - 1:12am

    A very good thing Sir Vince is not going fast, he is at an older age and without the sparkle of some, a very able and sensible man, an ideas one, more than some, I welcome his approach and like him as our leader.

    I am very glad to see my friend on here of many a commentary, Eddie, but not sure on this we agree. Though his emphasis on the overdoing on Brexit and underdoing on antisemitism is especially aposite and intelligent, his conclusion is perhaps the wrong one. I feel as do many, the antisemitism crisis is a real and worrying aspect of the left and far left, and thus in the Labour party, much research has led me to that . But it is best we leave them to it, and show how much better we are in our lack of the hatefulness that is too often a feature of the farther left and right.

    That above all means, as I do, we members, even when our leaders do not want to make capital from it, must reveal to others the nastiness online and elsewhere that we find and say how we as a party loathe it.

    I write on this and have articles online against antisemitism and racism as a whole. This crisis has brought me in contact with many fine campaigners on facebook and elsewhere now as friends, sharing our efforts.

    See my articles, Eddie and take part online, on this issue http://www.ustinovforum.com

    I have many on there.

  • @Martin, indeed. Nevertheless Eddie is right that making the central focus of the party anti-Brexit has turned us into some sort of pressure group.

  • Innocent Bystander 2nd Sep '18 - 10:03am

    “technically legal but had loopholes which enabled people to flout the will of Parliament”

    This is the cancer at the heart of our failing nation.
    Wait a minute, Sir Vince, you are a parliamentarian and have been for years. It is unequivocally your job to make and pass laws. The blame for “grey areas” lands on your shoulders and it is impossible for the rest of us to do anything except try and be “technically legal”. It is infamous that you have invented the offence of “flouting the will of Parliament”.
    If those who are paid to be politicians, executives of our Offices of State, leaders and heads of Quangos did even 10% of what they are paid to do instead of dodging blame for failure and personal career management our nation would miraculously revive.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Sep '18 - 10:26am

    Vince Cable may not be the most charismatic of politicians but I was taught at an early age to beware of people with glib populist agendas. He is just the leader we need at this moment in time, calm, sensible and trustworthy and I believe on the right side of the most important decision this country has to make at this moment in time, BREXIT!!

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Sep '18 - 10:27am

    Vince Cable may not be the most charismatic of politicians but I was taught at an early age to beware of people with glib populist agendas. He is just the leader we need at this moment in time, calm, sensible and trustworthy and I believe on the right side of the most important decision this country has to make at this moment in time, BREXIT!!

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Sep '18 - 10:49am

    Perhaps parties need assertive foundation policies AND effective leadership/promotion?
    Is hoping for success as a party by putting leadership as the prime factor a form of “tooth fairy” politics?
    What is our policy on “austerity (for some)”?
    Continue?
    Change to?

  • David Allen 2nd Sep '18 - 11:11am

    “Legislation was passed which stated that if schemes were set up that were technically legal but had loopholes which enabled people to flout the will of Parliament then the Inland Revenue should go after them.”

    This implies that salaried bureaucrats in HMRC should be given the freedom to decide who might be “flouting the will of Parliament”, and “go after” whoever the bureaucrat decides is a villain. Fortunately it is not true. If it were, we would be setting up a tyrant State in which powerful bureaucrats could decide who should be chased for payment and who should be left alone. The inevitable corollary would be that to avoid tax in future, the rich avoider should locate the bureaucrat with power and bribe him to turn a blind eye.

    What has actually happened is that a law has been passed which makes a tax avoidance scheme null and void, such that tax remains chargeable, if it is established that the avoidance scheme has has no valid rationale other than to avoid tax. That law must ultimately be enforced by the courts, not by HMRC. If the aggrieved taxpayer can convince the courts that he was not unreasonably arranging his finances purely to avoid tax, then the HMRC cannot demand the tax. That’s the rule of law.

    Vince’s remarks are far too ambiguous. They encourage the idea that the law is elastic, that it has “grey areas”. That is the path to corruption.

    Not giving honours to those who have avoided tax, or indeed those who have caused offence in a myriad of other ways, is an entirely different matter. The honours system IS elastic. People can be honoured or not honoured for a host of subjective reasons, good or bad, and that’s how it works. Quite different from the law! Vince should not be conflating the honours system with the legal system.

  • I haven’t listened to the interview but I hope Sir Vince took the only true liberal position which is abolition of the honours system.

    Broadly recipients of honours fall into several categories:

    1. Celebrities to give the whole shebang a little stardust
    2. Patronage to encourage toeing of the line and people thinking for themselves: Business and trade union leaders who support “the cause” in the widest sense, former cabinet ministers who have stayed mainly loyal and haven’t launched too many leadership coups, backbenchers who haven’t rebelled too much.
    3. Civil servants – for a commentary see Yes, Minister.
    4. A few experts who actually care much more about recognition from people in their own field
    5. Sportspeople – who really want gold medals etc. not honours
    6. Military honours
    7. The “real people” who get a very light scattering compared to the the above of a few OBEs and BEMs.

  • For clarity – that should be to … “stop people thinking for themselves” in my comment above

  • marcstevens 2nd Sep '18 - 1:28pm

    Vince is doing a brilliant job as Leader, is attracting ex-members back who left the Party in the dark days of Clegg and the coalition and gets my full support as Party Leader. He is also giving short shrift to the ageists in and outside the party. Along with anti Semitism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia etc this is now becoming more of an issue with some of the personal attacks I am now seeing on social media, sometimes it even crops up on here.

  • Simon Horsman 2nd Sep '18 - 7:45pm

    I support “innocent bystander”s comment. Tax laws should be adjusted to achieve the will of the people as expressed through their MP’s. Retrospective “legislation” (because that is what it is) to frustrate some tax dodge should only happen in extraordinary cases.

    I strongly support the moves to create greater transparency tho’ I’m aware that total transparency helps the “bad guys” weasel their way out of paying tax and that a bit a vagueness on the part of the authorities may have more powerful deterrent effects. It’s complicated!

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Sep '18 - 12:37pm

    One of the issues with our parliament is the strength of the Party and whip systems. We need a more fluid system. If we live in a representative system of government that we do, MPs allegiance should be as much to their electorate as their Party. More free votes and transparency of what the whips are doing regarding specific issues will help.

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