Starbucks Isn't the Scandal of the Autumn Statement, Politicians Are

05/12/2012 10:59 GMT | Updated 03/02/2013 10:12 GMT

Did you know that the gap between the tax that the UK government is meant to collect compared to the tax that it actually collects is £32 billion.

£32 billion, that's enough to rebuilt 400 of the £80 million flash academy schools with the £300 chairs or 80 brand new hospitals. If we managed to actually collect the cash that we are owed then we would be a quarter of the way to closing the crippling budget deficit that hangs like a millstone around the neck of the UK economy.

Think about that as you walk past Starbucks today, a firm that managed to pay precisely £0 corporation tax for the last 15 years. Even more frustratingly, I found all this out using Google, another multi-national, along with Facebook, Amazon and co who have all decided that paying corporation tax is for wimps.

I am not completely naive, I know that they all employ thousands and will make a sizeable contribution to the economy and the Chancellor's coffers. I also know that if the Chancellor decides to go after the tax avoiders in earnest then these businesses will just pay more to get even smarter accountants and continue the game of tax cat and mouse.

But as much as this tax avoidance is wrong, it's merely window dressing for the real scandal. Our economy is in serious trouble and yet our politicians on both sides seem to be more interested in beating each other up than actually helping the people they represent. Just watch the clips from the House of Commons as Osbourne delivers his Autumn statement. Watch the shouting, screaming, grinning and gurning on both sides of the aisle. All they will care about is landing the next blow against their opponents with a smug superiority. Never mind losing touch, it's as if Cameron and Osbourne, Milliband and Balls (oh yeah, and Clegg) can't even remember what a voter looks like. Nor do they seem to exhibit the slightest empathy with the fact that there are millions people on their doorstep who will feel the impact, and in many cases the hardship, of their decisions.

Political parties need to disagree. When it works well, it makes for better government. But at the moment each party is just is stuck in a never ending cycle of opposing each other purely on entrenched ideology. Neither side is allowed to simply have a good idea anymore. If it's a Tory policy, Labour will dismiss it outright and vice-versa whilst the marginalised Lib Dems look on like a weird relative at Christmas dinner who's invited but always ignored.

On the economy, it is bad enough that you can't find two economists that seem to agree on what to have for lunch. But when you add the likes of Ed Balls and George Osbourne into the mix, they would rather use any economic source, dubious or otherwise, not because they think it will genuinely get the country back on track but purely because they want to win a petty argument. This is short-sighted in the extreme.

And this is exactly the same with the Starbucks issue. I bet it's not how we fix the tax system that will be debated but more about Labour accusing the Tories of once again favouring the rich and big business over the hard working classes. No solution, just more ideological posturing. The question of how we reclaim the £32 billion that would actually make a real difference to real people, will be ignored yet again.

Osbourne and Balls, we all deserve better.