I started writing my Waiting for Godot blog with the objective of enhancing public understanding of, and improving the quality of public and political debate around, tax. Hence, the Blog’s title. I try to write thoughtful pieces, typically touching upon some tax issue in the public eye.
Despite being a small project it has enjoyed some successes. The FT has featured the blog several times and it is widely read by other journalists for the nationals. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, has commented on a number of posts and has indicated to me that he means to continue to support the blog and its object. I am sure, too, that his talented shadow, Shabana Mahmood MP, is equally committed to the development of effective tax policy and public engagement in the field. As I have written elsewhere on this blog, a closer engagement with taxation is a particularly pressing need for the Labour Party, of which I am a member.
The tax community as a whole has been very supportive. With its assistance, this blog is frequently able to break stories across the tax technical and legal press. I am particularly grateful for the support of Richard Murphy, whose public position in the field is without parallel, and who has frequently directed his considerable following to blog posts featured here. Richard knows – for his support comes despite the fact that much of the analysis here he would disagree with – the value of the project and of high quality debate.
I have written about the need for and benefits of a more meaningful engagement with the public by HM Revenue & Customs. What that engagement does not look like is the occasional Treasury Select Committee, or other parliamentary committee, appearance. What it does is real engagement with the media. It has been intimated to me, in high level discussions with HMRC, that there is growing internal recognition of the need for the department to become more outward facing. This, if it eventuates in a meaningful way, could be a transformational development not merely for the department but for public engagement in the field.
It’s always been clear to me that the project is too big for one person. Whilst I care enormously about it, I struggle to balance it with the demands of my practice. And I am also keenly aware of my own limitations: there are many important aspects of the field that I lack the technical capacity to address, at least in the educated and reflective style that I strive for.
To that end, I have in recent days asked a number of the leading figures in the tax world – and commentators in associated fields who I admire – to contribute thought pieces to this blog. These requests have been almost universally accepted. Pieces will appear in the coming days and weeks. And I will be very proud to host them.
One writer, of whom I am a particular fan and who has been especially supportive, has had to decline. It can be difficult for large professional services firms to write about tax policy. Their broad set of commercial interests, and duties, need to be carefully considered before taking a public position outside the range of a narrow tax technical analysis. But I hope that refusal does not signal a broader unwillingness to engage. It is those firms who harbour many or most of the leading technicians. And it is those firms alone that can deliver the value that comes from a breadth of perspective.
I hope those in the field who I have not – or not yet – approached might come to regard Waiting for Godot (www.waitingfortax.com) as a natural outlet for a particular kind of piece. An educated, reflective, non-partisan writing about tax. What might our system look like? How might we get there? Why are we where we are? What are the impediments to improvement? Not as an alternative to writing for the established technical journals in the field – who exist to examine tax purely from a technical perspective. And not for pieces that advance commercial or political interests. But for those that could advance the public interest.
You can contact me on Twitter at @jolyonmaugham
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Have you considered allowing or requesting anonymous (or pseudonymous) postings from those in large firms or who have restrictions on what they can say publicly?
I think I would be prepared to publish if (a) the point was one that the anonymous poster was able to make because of their position and (b) I knew who that poster was. Of course, the poster would have to trust that I would keep their details confidential. To that end, I would happily sign a legally binding non-disclosure agreement. I would also expect them to work with me to agree a generic description of who they were – i.e. something like “this guest blog was written by a director of tax at one of the big four”.
This policy might, of course, enable those in large firms to write. But also, I hope, to others at HMT or HMRC.
That makes sense and I think both restrictions make sense. Are there any specific areas you think guest posters could make interesting contributions?
I have some terrific people – and leading institutions – lined up. But I can’t really crack the whip as to when they deliver. No doubt it will be like buses and they will all come along at once…
As regards subject matter, it’s difficult to be specific. What I’d be interested in from an anonymous blogger is likely rather to depend on where they are. But, if you have anything in mind you can email me at my Chambers email address – or even call.
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