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Politician Tax Returns May Well Be a Plague on All of Our Houses

11/04/2016 17:21 | Updated 11 April 2016

There seems to be a consensus emerging that the past few days have been particularly bad ones for the Prime Minister. Not for one second would I disagree with David Cameron's own assessment, delivered with a certain degree of establishment British understatement, that "It's not been a great week."

For the first time in months I might even suggest that we have seen Labour on the front foot. Buoyed by the revelations of arguably out of touch wealth and misted by talk of offshore trading which I will venture few of us understand Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell are undoubtedly taking their chance, an opportunity that even by their standards it would be hard to miss.

I am more than a little worried though, worried that in seeking to capitalise on easy blows against the Tory, in the immortal words of Nadine Dorries, 'posh boys' a much greater threat lies in wait for both the Conservatives and Labour.

As party leaders, and those who aspire to take lofty office, line up to release summary or even actual copies of their tax returns the question has to be asked who else should be releasing theirs?

If Cabinet ministers are to publish details of their personal finances then what about the Shadow Cabinet? What about all MPs? Should Police Commissioners or Councillors be expected to publish their returns, or even candidates?

And of course what do we expect them to tell us? Tax returns may well show some politicians are rich whilst others will have much more modest incomes. It doesn't automatically follow that the wealthy ones will be Tory whilst the ones poorer than church mice wear red.

Do voters actually care whether their politicians are rich? It was hardly a secret that Mr Cameron was well to do prior to the 2015 General Election. Providing politicians are not acting illegally, and there is absolutely no suggestion that Mr Cameron was, does the electorate give two hoots?

But, and here is the massive caveat, what will happen when information is uncovered that politicians have used careful tax planning which to the public may be seen as dubious?

For every David Cameron we know, or at least it has been reported, there is a Tony Benn or Ken Livingstone making use (dependent on your point of view) of careful planning or aggressive avoidance.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning your finances to legally minimise your tax liability. Isn't that, simply put, what millions of us do by investing in ISA's?

The problem arises not so much in perfectly legal activities but how they are reported and it's my guess that there are plenty of politicians on both sides of the house who have made prudent use of their accountants.

What this means though isn't an easy win for Labour but the very high risk that all politicians will be tarred with the same brush. Do Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell truly believe that Labour is above reproach or will it be a plague on all of our houses?

When we look back at the dog days of the last Labour government we remember with a shiver down our backs the turmoil that the MP expenses scandal brought to all political parties, signalling the end of some very fine parliamentarian's careers.

Can we honestly be sure that the current tax return fiasco will not have exactly the same outcome?

How many voters will look at the establishment parties and say 'you can't trust any of them' before putting their cross for someone completely new?

There is a very real danger that in getting an easy win against the Tories Labour may have set course for a much greater defeat somewhere down the line, a defeat that may well lead to even greater calls for electoral reform.

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