Tax and truth: a challenge to politicians and voters

By Jill Segger
April 12, 2016

Tax, rightly levied and honourably accepted, is an instrument of justice. It has the capacity to improve the lives of all people by rectifying the inequities of distribution of income and capital – both financial and social – which deform and destroy lives.

By doing this, it also makes better the lives of those whose capital may give them the illusion of security. No-one can be secure in the longer term if their workers are poorly educated, anxious for their health, or unable to access decent and affordable housing. No one is so wealthy that they are not made vulnerable by crime nor inconvenienced by poor transport. To understand, internalise and build mutuality is a necessity for the good, supported and supportive life.

Something of this remains in the consciousness of those who choose personal gain over the common good. If it were not so, they would not go to such elaborate and costly ends to conceal those activities described as 'tax planning' nor to entangle themselves in coils of casuistry which confuse legality with morality and legitimate privacy with obfuscation and lack of accountability.

Such have been the embarrassing actions of David Cameron as, over the past few days, he squirmed, equivocated and demeaned his office over the legitimate questions arising from the revelations of the Panama Papers. Nothing more damages a person's character than being found out in a self-serving falsehood. In this instance, the falsehood was exacerbated and further damage done to trust by the evasive and grudgingly incremental nature of the revelations.

No amount of protestation about filial love changes this. The late Ian Cameron was, as are most adults, the captain of his own conscience. Whether or not the Prime Minister has benefited from actions for which he was not personally responsible but which he evidently knows to be questionable, is the moral issue. And the manner in which this has been handled reinforces the perception that power and wealth looks after itself while inequality increases as the Conservatives' policy of austerity bites deeper into the lives of those who have the least resources.

Blairmore Holdings, the company set up by Ian Cameron in the 1980s, has never paid any UK tax on its profits. The government led by his son has – all in the cause of 'cutting the deficit' – slashed public services, frozen the pay of public sector workers and caused mounting fear for disabled, sick and unemployed people by its draconian application of benefit sanctions and cuts.The perception that those who govern us, cocooned in wealth and privilege, are indifferent to the consequences of their policies on those less fortunately placed, grows by the day.

This utter disregard of what we might reasonably call a social contract must act as a wake-up call to us all. If we permit righteous anger to harden into resentment and the destruction of trust in the way power works, we will create a sullen and angry culture which will be hard to turn around. If that takes hold, we may well cease to examine our own approaches to tax being a valuable instrument of justice and greater equality for us all. Government cannot be permitted to become a committee managing the privileges of an elite, nor must we swallow without question the prevailing ideology of so much political thinking of recent decades: that tax is an imposition, a curb on our liberties and something to be sidestepped by whatever means we may be able to afford.

We must expect and press for greater integrity in our politicians. Statements which are technically true but intended to mislead are arguably worse than outright lies. Let us demand a higher standard of truth from our elected representatives and in return, apply that to our own thinking and political discourse.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.