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Thursday, February 12, 2015 

Fink for the man.

Poor old Stanley Fink.  When you consider just how much potential there was for endless puns on his name, that not one of the tabloids splashed on Ed Miliband naming him in the Commons in his "dodgy" attack on the prime minister, you couldn't have asked for a better indication of just how quickly his say that again and I'll hit sue you theatrics would be dropped.  Sure enough, Conservative Central Office most likely bothered last night to ask Lord Fink if there was perhaps the possibility he may have indulged in the odd bit of "vanilla" tax avoidance regardless, and so quietly this morning his put your dukes up Ed routine was scaled down in the Evening Standard.  After all, everyone does a bit of tax avoidance now and again, and when the opportunity arises to put down deposits on houses for your kids through a Swiss family trust scheme, to "help them make their way in the wider world", it'd be foolish not to do so.

As much fun as it is see Ed go in for the kill occasionally at PMQs, which if not quite the equivalent of being savaged by a dead sheep isn't that far away from being poked by soft cushions, you fear he got away with his assault on Dave lightly.  The whole Cameron is Flashman with questionable friends attack hasn't worked up to now, and failing something really cataclysmic befalling the Tory leader, isn't about to start to.  For every barb about being BFFs with donors who used HSBC's "gone rogue" Swiss branch, the Tories can point back to all of Tony Blair's irrepressible pals, or as Cameron did, just repeat the ever infuriating line about the unions owning Labour.  It doesn't matter that was in the past, that on Monday the Tories were auctioning off and presumably getting money for such horrors as going shoe-shopping with Theresa May or spending an evening with the Goves over a chicken dinner, presumably not in the basket, or you know, the unions created Labour and their members voted for Ed.  The way the public sees it, everyone who pours money into political parties is either questionable or doesn't have much in the way of sense.

This isn't to say there aren't questions for the government to answer over Stephen Green.  On Tuesday George Osborne's chief fluffer Matthew Hancock was on Newsnight saying it was unthinkable that HMRC would so much as tell ministers what they were up to, as it would be absolutely wrong for them to know the exact details of future prosecutions, only for Lin Homer to say yesterday she believed this was precisely what civil servants had done.  When you consider the ridiculous lengths the Tories went to try and tie "crystal Methodist" Paul Flowers to Labour, to ennoble Green and make him trade minister demands answers over just how much in the way of vetting was performed.  Instead he was seemingly welcomed with open arms, described by the saintly Vince Cable as "one of the few to emerge with credit from the recent financial crisis".  In more ways than one, the reality is hardly anyone has emerged from the crisis with credit.

To solely go after Green or those who made use of the services rendered by HSBC's Swiss branch then is to miss the point.  The real scandal is just how useless, if not outright complicit HMRC has been with those attempting to swindle the taxpayer.  We already knew about the cosy deals reached by Dave Hartnett with Vodafone and Goldman Sachs, where much larger sums in owed tax were bartered down to far smaller payments, and how within months of leaving the civil service he was in the employ of, err, HSBC and then Deloitte, one of the accountancy firms that designs the very tax structures used to dodge paying.  These latest revelations prove how it wasn't the influence of that one individual, the very ethos of HMRC seems to have become to make deals with those caught in the act rather than prosecute.  This wouldn't matter as much if the deals were suitably draconian, but as the amount retrieved so far from those named in the HSBC files shows, in comparison with the French and Spanish tax authorities less has been recouped from a far larger number of accounts.

This friendly relationship with avoiders hasn't developed in a vacuum.  For all the fine words from both Tories and Labour over cracking down, they still rely on the big four accountancy firms behind so many of the loopholes for advice or research.  HMRC itself has suffered cuts that make precisely the kind of investigations as those needed into the HSBC leaks all the more difficult and time consuming.  As with so much of the rest of government, they are expected to do more with less, only in HMRC's case it's difficult not to think it's deliberate.  The coalition has also joined in the race to the bottom on corporation tax, resulting in the need to make up the loss elsewhere, with more people as a result going over the 40p threshold.  When Labour then suggests putting the corporation tax rate back up a couple of pence, the reaction from Cameron is to cry about the opposition "demonising" business.  As opposed as to demanding the middle classes, the supposed people Cameron is meant to represent, stump up more instead.

The relative silence from the likes of the Mail over the HSBC files after it made so much of attacking Labour after the Stefan Pessina interview suggests the vulnerability of the right over the issue.  As the Tories and their friends in the media have belatedly realised, not talking about something is often the best way to try and shut it down, hence why the NHS and immigration don't feature among the Conservatives' key themes for the election campaign.  Expect now the Fink issue to be forgotten, and if Labour doesn't keep up the attacks over Green, side issue as he is, so too will any impact the mini furore will have.  Labour instead should be promising they will be far more proactive in going after the avoiders and prosecuting the evaders, insisting they face the same opprobrium as the "skivers" targeted by the Conservatives.  More likely is as business itself knows, should Labour gain a majority or form a coalition, the story is bound to stay the same.

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