In a tremendous show of openness, of the embrace of clarity, of a vivid demonstration that he gets it, George Osborne has said the he would be happy to look at publishing the tax returns of our elected representatives.
This magnanimous offer did not come out of the blue. What newspapers call "a heated exchange" took place on the respective tax arrangements of Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone at the LBC building at the start of the week, in the most notorious lift-based incident since Dennis Hopper got Keanu Reeve's attention in Speed. Five people rode the elevator up enough floors for there to be what footballers would call a full and frank exchange of views between the two main contenders for the crown of London Mayor.
This scenario is made all the funnier if you know that the lift in question has the same floor space as a packet of Swan Vestas. How one of those egos managed to squeeze itself into that car is a mystery, for both to shoehorn their way in and be accompanied by three fully sized witnesses is a feat that the geniuses at CERN should look into. They must have been touching stomachs. "You've got smelly pants", screamed one, "You've got farty breath", shouted the other. I may have those details wrong.
Tax avoidance is a touchy subject with everyone at the moment. That is, it is a touchy subject with everyone that can not afford to do it.
Tax evasion is what people who can't afford to pay their tax engage in. They get paid in cash, or accept favours in lieu of actual money and avoid the attentions of the Inland Revenue by pretending that they are poor, which is relatively easy, because they are. All that is illegal.
Tax avoidance on the other hand is what the rich employ to not pay the tax that they could easily afford but that they have earmarked for a new Bentley, or a better berth for their yacht, or bigger boobs for their executive stress management team. All that is legal. (But keep in mind that we are all in this together and we are all equal in the eyes of the law and blah, blah, blah.)
The Kezzer and Bozzer showdown was about employing legal means to maintain the maximum efficiency of their financial affairs, while simultaneously implying that they do no such thing.
There were accusations flying about offshore accounts and creative bookkeeping and shell companies and things so boring that the only reason anyone could keep awake while they were discussing it was that it was about money and they were SHOUTING AT THE TIME.
It is a touchy subject not just because they are bidding to be our Drear Leader but also because the public is heartily sick of being taken to the cleaners by the tax man, who they feel is ravaging them financially while fat plutocrats pay billions to their walnut tanned wives in sunny tax havens to avoid paying their share in sodden England, where they make their money. They are tired of subsidising the shiny lives of non-doms who are resident in places they never visit to minimise their outgoings and millionaires who pay less tax than the woman who scrubs their solid gold, swan shaped bath taps.
Into this moral mire stepped our Chancellor George Osborne to put our minds at rest. If we don't think that our elected representatives are paying their dues, let there be light shined into their murky affairs, said George. Except that he didn't say anything of the sort. What he said was: "We are happy to consider publishing tax returns for people seeking the highest offices". Sounds good when you read it at a canter. Slow it down and push it through the sieve of cynicism though, and you will notice that he did not say that he would be happy to publish those returns, he said he would be happy to LOOK at publishing them. In a similar vein, I would be happy to look at giving my television to the homeless and parking my car in Toxteth (no offence). I would also be happy to consider painting myself with cows' blood and running thorough the lion enclosure at Longleat. I won't actually do any of those things, but I would be delighted to contemplate them if it got me some good publicity.
George Osborne might also be happy to make out that he is happy to look at publishing the intimate details of his colleagues' financial affairs if it takes the heat off the row about his budget. But perhaps I am being too disdainful. Maybe this is a new definition of the word "happy" that I have not encountered before. English is a dynamic language, constantly in flux - conceivably "happy" is now its own antonym, like "bad" means "good" and "Honourable Member" means anything but.
Still, the press bought it and George gets some breathing room from questions about the increase in tax on pasties and grannies. The public can just about swallow a more expensive savoury pastry, but it draws the line at having to spend more to buy a perfectly ordinary granny.