Last night on Any Questions when the audience was asked this question the large majority said “No”. Nigel Farage and I both argued against compulsory publication.
I said that all candidiates for UK elected office should be prepared to assert or sign a declaration that they are paying all the usual range of UK taxes and are UK onshore taxpayers. MPs have to declare outside earnings. The same rule could usefully apply to elected Mayors and Police Chiefs once elected.
There are three main arguments against requiring publication of tax returns.
The first is it would reinforce the tendency of elections to be about individuals and their personal lives rather than about public policy and what they will do for the electors. The media fasciantion with the exchanges between Boris and Ken over personal tax and income is crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the Council Tax, the policing, and the transport of London.
The second is it could lead to very misleading jibes about tax avoidance. If Candidate A and Candidate B have the same income, but Candidate A is saving the maximum permitted for his pension and Candidate B is putting aside the minimum, Candidate A will be paying less tax. Does this make him a nasty tax avoider, or a prudent man who does not wish to be a burden on taxpayerrs in his old age? Is Candidate B the more worthy because he is paying more tax, or feckless because he is not using a legitimate tax saving device to provide for his own old age? Will any of these nuances come across in the noise of the headlines about tax rates?
The third is how far back will all this go? Will it put goood potential candidates off because they have been successful in the past and have no wish to share all the details of their business and personal finances with everyone else?
We are told this all happens now in American Presidential elections so it should happen here. The US President is a far more powerful office than that of an MP so maybe different rules should apply. I am not sure, however, that Mr Romney’s low tax charge on his successful career to date should be a major preoccupation when deciding who would be best to lead the world’s superpower. I would like to know more about what he might do in Afghanistan or how he might change tax rates for all were he President. It appears he paid all the tax he had to. I have no problem with the fact that someone managed his tax affairs well, if he behaved lawfully.