New Labour was keen to preach toleration for various minority groups, but their friendly theory never did extend to Tories or the rich.
Their recent witch hunt of selected Non Doms is a case in point. There is one thing much worse than seeing rich people avoid paying UK tax on their foreign earnings – and that would be to see them leave the UK or not come here in the first place, meaning they would not pay any tax at all here. I see nothing wrong with tax rules, presided over by both parties in government, that allow rich people with substantial overseas business interests and homes abroad to pay tax abroad on those, if they pay UK tax on their businesses and investments which they do base in the UK. It’s a win win for the UK taxman, as they come here, create jobs and companies here, and spend money here, paying tax on all those activities like the rest of us.
Given the state of near bankruptcy we now have been driven into, this country will need all the rich entrepeneurial friends it can find to pay some tax and create some enterprise here. It would be a foolish government which chose this moment to make the climate so hostile to enterprise and success that the rich queued up to leave or decided to stay away.
It becomes more complicated when these individuals wish to participate in UK politics and wish to spend some of their money on helping political parties. Both main parties have had Non Dom money, and all three parties have had some controversies over particular donors. Until recently it was accepted and it was legal for a party to propose a Non Dom for the House of Lords and for such a peer to influence the laws Parliament passes. Now the main parties have decided to change this ruling, and say only people paying full UK taxes on all their income and activities should be eligible for the Lords or able to stand for the Commons.
I have no problem with such a stance. It goes with the new spirit of transparency and regulation. The old position was defensible and used to cause no worry before the current crisis. It has never been a requirement to hold elected office or selected office in Parliament that you have experienced all the things we regulate or legislate about. Most Parliamentarians are not criminals, but happily opine on the best way to frame the criminal law. Men legislate for women and women for men. Adults legislate for children. A good legislator can think himself or herself into the position of those who will be affected by the legislation without necessarily having experienced the problem or situation themselves. It may seem strange today that people who did not pay UK taxes on all their worldwide income could legislate, yet such people were often paying more UK tax than others in the legislature because they were richer or more successful financially.
I would like to make one comment on Michael Ashcroft. At no time when I was Shadow Business Secretary, Shadow Environment Transport and Regions Secretary, or was busily writing the Economic Policy Report for the Opposition did Michael ever contact me to lobby me about the policies we were proposing, nor did he ever write to me seeking influence. Nor did any Leader ever do that for him.