Some short thoughts on the retirement from the Public Accounts Committee of Margaret Hodge

Those outside the world of tax might not appreciate quite what an influence Margaret Hodge has had on it.

Through her leadership qualities and quiet, behind-the-scenes, consensus building she led a cross-party committee to the heart of one of the most politicised issues of the last Parliamentary term: tax avoidance. To do this whilst maintaining its unity is a remarkable achievement.

Under her leadership, that Committee drove questions of tax and tax avoidance to the top of the political agenda. That achievement kept the political pressure on the Coalition Government to deliver on tax avoidance. And, politically inconvenient to the left though it is, the truth is that, on tax avoidance at least, the Coalition Government responded. It is impossible to know the extent to which responsibility for those legislative changes can be attributed to the work of the Public Accounts Committee. But on any view considerable credit is due to it and to her.

Tax avoidance can’t merely be tackled through changes in the law. It requires public engagement too. Through her acute analysis of the pressure points of, particularly consumer facing, businesses she achieved a number of voluntary changes in corporate behaviour. The effects of this positive drift will continue to be seen.

And we should not forget the important role she played in achieving those (regrettably, still modest) enhancements in HMRC’s public accountability that were delivered during the course of the last Parliament.

And she did all of this whilst finding the time to support and develop the effectiveness of Labour Party activists.

The tax profession, by and large, will be delighted to see the back of her. It’s right to acknowledge that one can’t walk a highwire for five years without occasionally falling off. But, nevertheless, I struggle to see any other serious claimant to the title of most influential Opposition MP of the last Parliamentary term. Who else, after all, can lay claim to have inspired two words: a Hodging and a MarGarotting?

11 thoughts on “Some short thoughts on the retirement from the Public Accounts Committee of Margaret Hodge

  1. The consensus building must indeed have been quiet and behind the scenes, since it is news to me.

    A bully, a hypocrite and a demagogue.

    She was right on tax only in the sense that a shotgun could be described as accurate – yes it might hit the target, but it also hits a lot of other things too.

  2. Are you agreeing with the first sentence of my final paragraph?

  3. Unfortunately Margaret Hodge’s achievements will now forever be tainted by her association with the LDF. It is a trajedy of sorts.

  4. I’m not sure what she is said to have done.

  5. I don’t know enough details of Margaret Hodge and the LDF to have a view but the two have appeared in the same story and that seems to be enough these days.

    Since there were times when she cheerfully took part in mud slinging allegations on tax without much foundation she could hardly complain if the same happened to her.

    Hodge certainly generated a lot of heat in the tax debate, I’m not sure she generated much light.

  6. A gentle observation: there’s a lot of mud-slinging at Margaret Hodge in the comments here. I understand why. But not much engagement with (or dispute on) her strengths I’ve identified.

  7. Fair enough point Jolyon.

    I agree that she helped bring tax to the top of the public agenda and widened the debate on tax avoidance to include questions of morality and a wider duty to society.

    She also helped move HMRC’s accountability further up the public agenda.

    These things needed doing.

    I can’t really comment on her behind the scenes work as I don’t have access to behind those scenes. There wasn’t really much quiet consensus building on display when she sat in committee.

    Insisting that an HMRC lawyer gave evidence under oath? Accusing PwC’s head of tax of lying? Undermining the long-standing secondment cooperation between the big 4 and HMRC? Not much consensus building there. For the most part witnesses were constrained and polite but I can’t say the same for Hodge.

    And, it would have helped if she had a bit more understanding of tax.

    You’re right that most tax advisors will be glad she has gone. She unfairly painted the lot of us in a bad light and it’s inevitable that if you do that you’re going to get people’s backs up.

    I think as much or maybe more could have been achieved with a softer, more researched approach. However, there wouldn’t have been as much publicity in that, so if that was part of her aim, she achieved it.

    Tax is firmly on the public’s agenda, for now at least.

  8. I am indeed Jolyon! Nothing escapes your beady eye!

  9. My understanding is that her father set up an offshore structure involving a Liechtenstein foundation and a Belize trustee company. There is no suggestion that I am aware of that she knew about the arrangements or had anything to do with them but (again, my understanding only) is that she was a beneficiary and once the LDF claim had been made, probably benefiting from the beneficial treatment that such claims generally receive, she took her share of the assets.

  10. Hodge’s achievement was to put tax avoidance in the spotlight. However the good she’s done is to undermine the public’s view of HMRC through her over politicisation of the dispute. She also at times showed a wilful and deliberate ignorance of tax which she used for political purposes. She also allowed people like Richard Murphy to gain credence which is wholly undeserved (and also allowed Taxmark to gain some sort of respectibility.

    All in all I’m glad to see the back of a politician who played a political game throughout. Politics should, at its best, should be about doing good for the country. Raising tax avoidance into the public’s mind was good, the methods employed were mainly wholly bad as the arguments did not enlighten the public, mainly they were about business bashing old Labour style.

  11. For better or worse, Mrs Hodge has left a mark.

    She is arguably correct in raising the issue of avoidance by large corporates and the wealthy in the public awareness but whether than justifies the means used and the use of the political platform it gave her is debatable.

    She has however damaged severely HMRC’s ability to be even mildly reasonable in reaching settlement with those who have, deliberately or otherwise, “avoided” tax and has led to an increasing backlog of disputes heading for the Tribunal as “settlement offers” as just not attracting people.

    She has also allowed those on the fringes of the debate on tax to share her platform and the resultant loss of balance is a continuing worry.

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