Ros gets to turn up at the debate, whereas I only get to read the papers afterwards. Not unreasonable, I suppose, and I almost certainly wouldn’t get to read some of the more intriguing documents otherwise. By the way, don’t worry, I don’t get to read anything that isn’t in the public domain! Amongst today’s reading matter for the train journey to Lancaster (hi Mum, I’m on the train!), is the report of the very Select Committee that Ros wrote of earlier.
It is a very well written report, although I do wonder about the fairness of some of the criticism. It is entirely fair to question the effectiveness of the partnership between HM Treasury (HMT) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), a subject on which I have an interest but no direct knowledge. However, the criticism seems to overlook the political dimension, perhaps naively so.
As the Conservatives have become a more credible party of government - not necessarily a more credible party in government, I might add - they have begun to attempt to make the weather on taxation, aided to some extent by the inability of the current administration to identify a consistent political narrative. Generally speaking, George Osborne and his merry men have avoided the difficult task of actually costing their proposals - we are told that this is a work in progress - but the thought that they might care is sufficient to earn ‘brownie points’ with a discontented public.
Labour’s response has smacked of the behaviour of a rather paranoid and hyperactive magpie, regardless of the truth of the matter. It may indeed be the case that many of their responses have been based on pre-existing work being done, but the media, the public and, more worryingly, the professional stakeholders, don’t believe it. It’s all about credibility and tone, and Alastair Darling doesn’t have it at the moment.
Liberal Democrats are good on costings, long on credibility (could we have a better Treasury spokesman than Vince Cable, indeed could anyone?) but short on access to the media - although it’s getting better by the day…
So, with the Conservatives making much of the weather, and Labour doing badly but committed to an economic policy that leans towards a conventionally liberal economic agenda, there has been a temptation to spring tax policy changes for short-term political advantage. And, to be frank, a bunch of whinging accountants and tax lawyers, who probably vote Conservative anyway (a left-wing generalisation, not mine) are less significant than a couple of favourable headlines in the Daily Mail and the Guardian. What price proper consultation under those circumstances?
The abstract of the Report concludes by stating, “Our overall impression from the evidence we received was that this year the formulation of tax policy has been marked by uncertainty of direction.”. Alas, just another sign of intellectual drift in that long-running Westminster farce, “By George, Darling, you’ve lost your trousers!”.