George Osborne 'happy' to reveal politicians' tax data

George Osborne George Osborne says Britain might follow US politicians in opening tax returns

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Chancellor George Osborne says he would be "very happy" for the government to consider publishing the personal tax returns of senior cabinet ministers.

Interviewed in Saturday's Daily Telegraph Mr Osborne said: "Personally, I don't set my face against it."

He added: "They do it in America. My personal principle has been make the rules in general more transparent."

It comes after a public row between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone over their tax payments.

The pair, both candidates for Mayor of London at next month's election, were involved in angry exchanges last week amid accusations of avoiding income tax by channelling earnings through companies.

Mr Johnson and Mr Livingstone have now published their tax records, as have the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick, and the Green Party's Jenny Jones.

The other candidates are Carlos Cortiglia of the BNP, independent Siobhan Benita and Lawrence Webb, of Fresh Choice for London.


It's a long established practice in American politics, but, until now, not here: should those running for high office be expected to divulge their personal tax affairs?

It would be a big cultural shift if it were to start happening here as a matter of course.

But right now this debate, and George Osborne's intervention into it, is about raw electioneering.

It will be seen by many as an attempt to embarrass Labour's Ken Livingstone, who has in the past been very critical of tax avoidance.

Mr Livingstone is Labour's candidate for Mayor of London and hopes to beat his Conservative rival Boris Johnson.

In recent weeks Mr Livingstone has been accused of being a hypocrite because of the way he has managed his own tax affairs. He has not done anything illegal, but it's caused him political anguish.

The job of Mayor of London might only extend to one city, but it's nationally politically significant who wins.

Mr Osborne told the Telegraph: "When it comes to publishing tax returns, personally, I don't set my face against it.

"But we have to think through the issues. You have to think through the advantages and disadvantages. We have got to think through the issue of taxpayer confidentiality, which is a very important principle in Britain."

Business Secretary Vince Cable echoed Mr Osborne's calls and told the Telegraph: "I'm quite happy to be open about it. I have no problem with my tax return being published while I am in government."

BBC correspondent Chris Mason quoted a Downing Street source as saying the government had no plans to bring this idea forward immediately, but adding: "We have been at the forefront of transparency so we are always happy to hear about ways of becoming more transparent."

A source close to the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told our correspondent Mr Clegg has "no objection in principle" to the idea.

Earlier Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions it was a bad idea.

"How far back do we go? Do we ask for medical records?" he asked.

Mr Farage said his fear was that it would put successful business people off a career in politics.

Former Conservative cabinet minster John Redwood urged caution, saying the way the story had attracted so much attention to the London Mayoral race showed it could easily become a distraction from real political issues.

"The media understandably find it fascinating," he told the BBC.

"We then have endless debates about the details of someone's tax affairs when what most of us want to know is what will they do to our council tax ; what would they do to our roads and transport; what would they do to our policing."

Robert Oxley of the TaxPayers' Alliance told the BBC he was in favour of the idea, provided it was handled in a systematic manner.

"I think this is an inevitable result of there being a crisis of faith over our policians," he said.

"It's inevitable that we will see calls for politicians to disclose their tax affairs. It's a huge invasion of privacy, but if we are going to do it, it has to be in a systematic and fair way."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Like it or not, tax avoidance is perfectly legal. If you indulge in it, you are simply acting in your own best interests. To deny that you are doing so for political gain is cowardly and hypocritical.

    Ideally, these schemes should not exist - not everyone has access to expert advice. It introduces bias into the system.

    Perhaps the best solution is to simplify the system and void these schemes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    Seems like another pointless and vulgar intrusion into a persons privacy. It doesnt matter if they are a politician, banker, priest of pharmacy assistant, people should be able to have confidence in what they are doing without it being on display to the whole world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    There seems to be a paradox here. We are asking our politicians to declare all their expenses and to reveal their tax returns and their outside interests because . . . we don't trust them. If we don't trust them, why in gods name are we electing them. We can't have it both ways; either we trust them and let them get on with it or we don't trust them and don't vote for them . . . which is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I'm not an accountant, and certainly not a tax avoidance specialist, but, as is made clear in a number of previous posts, personal UK tax returns are only a minor part of the whole picture. They may have bank accounts in various tax havens and income in any number of foreign countries, as well as registered limited companies to manipulate (some would say launder) income so as to reduce their tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    If the tax authorities are happy I see no reason I need to know the details.

    Simplifying the tax system and not overdoing the variation in rates would be a better way to deal with the legal use of loopholes. Take away the value of doing it.

    Low tax is not worth the trouble or accountant cost in avoiding.


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