Hey Politicians! The public are less stupid than you think

Here’s Iain Duncan Smith, on paying tradesmen in cash, speaking yesterday:


But hang on a second, here’s the Daily Mail responding to observations on the same subject made by the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, in 2012:


Those bloody Tories, eh? But wait, wait, wait, wait up. Here’s Ed Miliband speaking on tax avoidance on Saturday:


And here he is speaking on tax avoidance in 2012:


What are we to take from all of this? Nothing attractive, although it’s reassuring that the public sees through it. This is YouGov, polled on 12-13 February:


Credit to the Mail, source of all four of the quotes set out above.

10 thoughts on “Hey Politicians! The public are less stupid than you think

  1. Jolyon

    This reminds me of a story about Disraeli:-
    Journalist “How do you intend to stand on the issue?”
    Disraeli: “On my head”.
    Whether actual or apocryphal, it seems to sum up the current debate.
    However, could we not all be said to be a little bit on our heads regarding our attitude to the public? A while back you quoted another opinion poll on public attitudes to avoidance. I suggested on twitter that the average non tax – professional wouldn’t be very aware of the nuances of the subject. Your reply was along the lines of you were trying (struggling) to be polite to me. This week, however, you have offered up the idea of abandoning jury trial for tax evasion. I was outraged and thundered that juries’ inadequacies were all simply the perception of the legal professionals.
    What to take from this? That the tax professions and legal professions are equally arrogant? That you and I cannot see the moats in our own eyes? Or maybe just that Twitter as a medium brings out the worst in people?

  2. Hi Olaf,

    Nice Disraeli story. Thanks.

    I can’t remember the twitter exchange (happy for you to direct me to it). But I hope I’ve been fairly consistent that the public have a better instinctive grasp of these issues than politicians – and many practitioners – give them credit for. That’s one of the points I wanted to make in my post. I can see why you might see there as being some tension between that observation and my call for complex tax evasion offences (and other complex white collar crime) to come before specialist juries (or even judges). But it doesn’t seem that way to me: there’s a difference between having an instinctive feel for the issues and being able to unravel the obfuscations of a technically gifted lawyer…

    Thanks, as always, for your contribution


  3. Thanks Jolyon

    For what it’s worth I think evasion/fraud is an easier concept to grasp than avoidance and therefore easier to identify.
    Where there might be difficulties is in identifying non – extractive tax fraud, e.g routing invoices through offshore brass plate companies to achieve higher costs. I have a theory (no more than that) that HMRC does not have the right people in place to make this identification and to take a case forward to prosecution. If sections doing criminal work within HMRC recruit from a small pool of mates, promote above and beyond technical training and competence and keep it in – house then they will only be interested in chasing easy benefit fraud cases.
    I wonder if I’m alone in this or just completely wrong.

  4. i’ve heard from two separate QCs who do criminal fraud prosecutions for HMRC that they have a big problem with the quality of their investigatory work. so i think you’re right on the money.

  5. The real issue isn’t getting receipts or not, it’s agreeing to pay cash “and I’ll knock the VAT off”.

  6. i’d agree – even though the two can blend together – and politicians aren’t (or aren’t reported as) articulating the difference

  7. A case of public perseption being a bit off? As a tax professional I think I have seen more anti-avoidance legislation from the coalition government than from Labour. Brown tinkered endlessly but things like EBT loans were only knocked on the head by Osborne.

    Of course that may have more to do with the ‘public mood’ than anything else but I think you need to be wary that the public mood isn’t a catalyst for rushed judgements. The public mood in Salem wasn’t an accurate indicator of the real prevelance of witches.

  8. I’d agree – the noise around the Tories doing nothing bears no relationship to reality (as I have oft-stated, including in the Guardian). But they suffer from being the party of the wealth – and so perhaps the smell of association with wealthy avoiders/evaders lingers a little longer around Tory corridors.

  9. What are the public meant to think about those who participated in the Eclipse 35 film partnership? Is that on a par with paying a tradesman in cash, which both David Gauke and Ed Balls have condemned but most people seem to do from time to time (including Ed Milliband, and it seems Iain Duncan Smith)? Or worse? Or just different?

  10. i can’t really answer questions about eclipse 35 – for obvious reasons. but i promise it won’t take much research to find a case i’m not appearing in…

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