A chicken had managed to get herself marooned on a log in the big pond this morning. We were attempting to reach it with a long-handle net when Albert arrived. In no uncertain terms he told us that we have all become infected with the “bloody health and safety rubbish” before wading straight in and retrieving the hen. On reflection he was right. We all tend to believe too readily what we are told, in this case a load of nonsense about three inch and three foot safety procedures, something that a few days ago prevented the possible rescue, by a group of able-bodied firemen, of a man drowning in a three-foot deep boating pool.
Come to think of it, we believe far too much of everything. Over the past few months there has been a lot of ill-feeling toward tax dodgers. If what we read is true George Osborne himself does it, as do nearly all the top earners and large companies. And this at a time when people on low incomes are struggling to pay their energy bills or other essential needs, such as food. So the attack by Ken Livingstone on what he called “rich bastards”, went down well. For good measure he said that “no one should be allowed to vote in a British election, let alone sit in parliament, unless they pay their full share of tax”. According to Ken, Cameron’s problem is too many of his team have become super-rich by tax fiddling and “everybody should pay tax at the same rate on earnings and other income”.
Quite right too, said we codgers. But it appears that all is not what it seems in the newt-infested world of our hero. We now learn that our Ken has avoided at least £50,000 in tax by having himself paid through a personal company. Companies House documents show that Mr Livingstone, who is Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty, earned £232,000 in 2009, the first year after his defeat by mad Boris. The money came from personal appearances, speechmaking and hosting a radio show. It was paid into a new company set up by Ken and his wife, Emma. The pair are the sole shareholders.
Accountants tell us that the move appears designed to ensure that Mr Livingstone paid corporation tax at 20 or 21 per cent, rather than income tax at up to 40 per cent. It is a loophole the former mayor has himself attacked as”Robin Hood in reverse”. It also meant that he was able to split his income 50-50 with his wife, even though it was earned entirely by him, saving further tax, and to pay Mrs Livingstone from company funds as his “assistant”.
There is now a row between the couple and accountants as to some of the detail, but the simple fact is that, like so many of his Tory enemies, Ken Livingstone is guilty of saying one thing and doing another. And two wrongs do not make a right.
If the government wanted to close this loophole it could easily do so. If personal companies were reformed so the income they earn is taxed on their owners as if it were part of their own income, that would close the hole. That way tax, and National Insurance if appropriate, could not be avoided by putting a company between a person and their income.
Of course a government so inhabited by people who, by one scheme or another, rob the exchequer is never going to do more than pay lip service to a crackdown on tax avoidance. But the general hard-pressed taxpayer should at least be able to expect the opposition to have clean hands.
The amount saved by Ken Livingstone is miniscule compared to that of his enemies. But sadly the man we called Red Ken appears to be tarred with the same brush.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. In which US state is Death Valley? 2. Which sea does the River Jordan flow into? 3. Who was Speaker of the House after Bernard Weatherill? 4. What was the first Craig David hit to feature the word ‘Love’ in the title? 5. Which BBC magazine was launched in 1929? 6. What did Captain Cook call the islands of Tonga? 7. Which celebrity was murdered in 1980 outside New York’s Dakota Building? 8. Who played Lennie Godber in the TV series Porridge? 9. Which naval base is situated in Hampshire? 10. Who featured on The Pussycat Dolls number one hit ‘Don’t Cha’ ?