Posts Tagged ‘Knightsbridge’

Private Eye on More Tax Avoiding Press Barons

March 18, 2016

I found this feature on in Private Eye’s issue for the 17th-30th April 2015 on how Yevgeny Lebedev, the former owner of the Independent, the Barclay twins, who own the Telegraph and Lord Rothermere all use their non-dom tax status to avoid paying British tax.

Non-Dom Press Barons
Street of Sham

So consuming was the Tory press’ rage at Ed Miliband’s plan to make Russian oligarchs and gulf petro-billionaires in London liable for the same taxes as British citizens, its hacks forgot to the declare their interest.

“London backlash over Ed’s non-dom attack,” boomed the front-page of the London Evening Standard, as if a mob had descended on Labour HQ to defend London’s much-loved oligarchs and hedge fund managers. “Attacking non-doms could backfire on us,” continued an editorial inside. Sarah Sands, the Standard’s Uriah Heepish editor, did not risk her career by saying who the “us” included – namely her boss, Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian who last year dodged the Eye’s repeated questions of his own domicile.

Silence infected the Telegraph too, where not one of the reporters who warned that Labour’s “cataclysmic” decision would drive away “tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and business leaders” mentioned that their owners, the weirdo Barclay twins, reside in Monaco and the Channel Islands to avoid British tax.

Instead they quoted James Hender, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness accountants, who warned that the rich may leave. The Telegraph didn’t tell its reads that Hender boasts of his long experience ensuring that “the most tax efficient strategies are adopted for non-UK, situs assets” for his non-dom clients.

It was the same at the Mail, which failed to declare that its owner, 4th Viscount Rothermere, is treated by the tax authorities as a non-dom. And at Sky, political editor Faisal Islam reported that “Baltic Exchange boss Jeremy Penn slams Labour non-dom plans” without declaring that his owner, Rupert Murdoch, does not pay UK tax and that Penn acts for super-rich shipping owners.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who has advised Labour and the Tories on tax reform, tells the Eye that any reader sill enough to believe the Tory press and tax avoidance industry should look at what they said in 2008, when Labour introduced the first levies on non-doms.

Back then the Mail then said the central London property market would crash as non-doms sold up and moved to Switzerland. In fact, between Labour introducing the levy and 2014, prime central London property prices rose 41 per cent. At the end of 2014, Knightsbridge estate agent W.A. Ellis said 54 per cent of sales were to overseas buyers.

The Mail was equally certain the City would suffer. On 8 February 2008 it cried that the levy “risks the City’s future”. The British Banking Association warned of “a devastating blow”. The Telegraph of 12 February 2008 said that “the country’s wealthiest individuals are being bombarded with leaflets and letters explaining how easy it would be to relocate to Switzerland, Monaco and a host of other countries”. Not to be outdone, Mike Warburton, senior tax partner at accountants Grant Thornton, said the levy was the “final straw”. If a word of this had been true, there would be no non-doms left for Miliband to tax. As it is, there are 115,000 because, as Maugham says, London remains “a very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy. And that won’t change.” Or as the Financial Times put it: “The many advantages of London as a financial centre do not dissolve simply because of a change in a hitherto generous tax treatment of resident non domiciles.”

The pink ‘un has only recently realised the iniquity of the non-dom rule, with an editorial last month calling for its abolition. Editor Lionel Barber modestly claims some credit for Miliband’s stance. But as editor for almost a decade, why was he so late to the party? Surely not because, until 2013, FT owner Pearson was run by US-born Dame Marjorie Scardino, who would certainly have qualified for non-dom status and whose London flat, the Eye revealed, was owned via an offshore company?

So there you are. Fleet Street’s extremely rich proprietors, with the exception of the Financial Times, take the view that, in the words of the ‘Mayflower Madam’, the brothel owner arrested for tax evasion in New York now over a decade ago, paying tax is only for the ‘little people’. And they have no qualms about getting rich, while shifting the tax burden on to the poor and demanding low wages and zero-hours contracts. All the while proudly declaiming their patriotism, like the Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, resident in America. So much for real patriotism.

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Huff Post on Kipper Throwing Strop at Bristol Uni on Any Questions

March 1, 2015

Radio 4’s political debate programme, Any Questions on Friday was at Bristol Uni. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the radio equivalent of BBC 1’s Question Time. A different panel of politicians appear at various locations up and down the country each week, and are asked questions by the audience. On the panel this last week was David Coburn, a UKIP MEP. Coburn’s odd in that he’s openly gay, yet opposes same-sex marriage. He’s accused its supporters as ‘equality Nazis’. Which is weird, considering that the Nazis most certainly did not favour equality, and were very firmly against male homosexuality. During the Third Reich gay men were sent to the concentration camps, and identified with a pink triangle on their camp uniform. It’s quite bizarre, considering that in the bio that was sent to the audience, he described himself as ‘a big, screaming poof’.

The Huffington Post’s article, Ukip MEP David Coburn Got Slow Hand-Clapped So Called BBC Audience Names, reports how the students were definitely not impressed by Coburn’s remarks about immigrants pricing British people out of the housing market. So they started to give him the slow handclap. This enraged Coburn, and he started ranting about how the audience was ‘Green’ and full of ‘Lib Dems’. The article begins

Ukip MEP David Coburn appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on Friday evening. He got slow hand-clapped by members of the audience. So he called them names.

Coburn got into a fight with the audience at Bristol University during a discussion about housing. “How would we know how many houses we need? Because we don’t know how many people are coming into the country,” he said, having dismissed the “wind” from Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds.

Coburn, Ukip’s MEP from Scotland, said Britain should leave the EU in order to be able to properly understand how many houses needed to be built. Members of the audience then started to loudly slow handclap the MEP.

“This is a blatantly Green [Party] audience,” Coburn shot back, as host Jonathan Dimbleby tried to keep things calm. “Many of these people sitting around here, all very nice bourgeois Greens and whatever and so on and so forth, what about the working man? How can he afford a house if he is competing with open door immigration?”

The article’s at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/27/ukip-mep-david-coburn-was-slow-hand-clapped-by-bbc-audience_n_6772468.html. There’s an audio file with it, so you can hear this broadcasting train wreck for yourself.

Now I don’t know how many people in the audience were Green party members or Lib Dems. I’m sure there were a number, but probably far less than Coburn believes. The Lib Dems have lost a lot of student support, and created a great deal of hostility for themselves on campuses up and down the country through raising tuition fees. I’ve been at conferences on medieval history, where speakers have compared Nick Clegg with some of the Middle Ages most notorious liars and slippery customers. It’s one of the reasons why I believe that Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees from £9,000 down to £6,000 should be a vote-winner.

The party political allegiances of the students there probably wasn’t the only reason they showed their disapproval so audibly. There’s now a global market in education, and people come to British universities from all over the world. And increasingly vice-versa. Brits are now also choosing to study in America, and also at continental universities, such as Paris and Brussels. Many members of the academic staff are also foreign. Among the lecturers at the archaeology and anthropology department at Bristol, for example, were academics from across Europe – Greece, Germany and Portugal. There were also visiting speakers, who gave seminars and lectures to the Arch-Anth Soc (Archaeology and Anthropology Society) from across the world. The students were no less diverse, coming from places like Greece, America, Canada, India and Thailand. This is part of what makes going to uni such an enriching experience. Quite apart from the purely academic study, you get to meet and mix with people from different, often vastly different backgrounds and cultures.

And your own understanding of the world, its immense problems and vast opportunities, is broadened.

With so many in the audience either foreign, or the friends and fellow students of people from outside the UK, it really isn’t surprising that the audience disliked Coburn’s comments so strongly. They are simply narrow and xenophobic. And many of the foreign students are going to find them particularly hollow, as the fees for them were much higher than those for domestic students. They were, however, living in the same halls of residence, and the same types of student accommodation. So they probably didn’t feel that they were pushing house prices up.

Quite apart from the experiences of foreign students and their circumstances, Coburn’s attempt to link it to immigration from the EU, or anywhere else, is quite wrong. There have been cases recorded in the right-wing press, like the Daily Mail, where large numbers of immigrants have placed a strain on available stocks of council housing. However, the root cause of the lack of affordable housing is because the incomes of the very rich have increased far beyond those of the working and lower middle class, regardless of ethnicity or immigrant status. Not enough houses have been built, and since Thatcher the government has been trying to get rid of council housing. In fact Thatcher expressly forbade any more from being built. As for affordable housing, for many people this is a grim joke. The rents for affordable homes are pegged at 80 per cent of the market rate, which for many people in London still means that they will be unable to afford them. The rich, through their immense wealth, push up property prices, beyond the ability of the lower income groups to rent or purchase.

And if immigrants from the continent really were pushing us all out of house and home through their sheer numbers and obscene wealth, why is it then that, according to the stats Johnny Void has put on his blog, 34 per cent of rough sleepers in London are foreign?

The only areas of which I can think, where Coburn’s comments about immigrants pushing up property prices might be true, is in the very affluent parts of London, like Kensington and Knightsbridge, where luxury apartment have been built aimed at the global super-rich, such as the Chinese, or bought up by Russian oligarchs. Now the last time I looked, China and Russia were not part of the EU.

Coburn was given the slow hand-clap by Bristol Uni’s students, not just because some of them were left-wing, though that was probably also part of it. But also because they knew from their own experience at Uni that Coburn was talking dangerous, xenophobic nonsense. And they reacted accordingly.

The Bulgarian Peasant Party’s Solution to the Housing Problem

June 1, 2014

Last week I blogged on the several contemporary issues, which were similar to those tackled by the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, nearly a hundred years ago. These were a local village power company, which was run as a co-operative by the whole community. It was thus similar to the idea of the Utopian British Socialist, Thomas Spence, for the communal ownership of land by the individual parishes, and also to the idea of the Bulgarian peasants’ party for the transformation of Bulgarian agricultural society through the formation of peasant cooperatives. I also remarked on the way the Bulgarians had also set up a policy of allowing the banks to provide loans on reasonable rates to credit cooperatives as a way of driving out the moneylenders. This is a problem that now besets British society, through the return of loan sharks and payday loan companies, like Wonga, that offer extortionate rates, because of wage freezes and cuts to welfare benefits.

Bulgaria, like modern Britain, also suffered from a housing crisis, made worse by the influx of thousands of refugees displaced by the First World War. They attempted to solve it through a mixture of policies, one of which was similar to the Bedroom Tax. They laid down the maximum amount of space that a family could occupy in a property, so that there would be more space available for the homeless. They also set about building cooperatively owned tenement blocks. R.J. Crampton describes these policies in A Short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 90).

The principle of maximum holding was applied to urban as well as rural property. The post-war refugee invasion had placed severe strains upon the already hard-pressed housing resources of Bulgaria’s towns, particularly Sofia. According to Agrarian legislation no family was to occupy more than two rooms and a kitchen, with an extra room for every two children over fourteen. Office space was also subject to restriction, and in the case of both domestic and office accommodation commissioners acting on behalf of the ministry of the interior had extensive powers to enforce the new and widely resented regulations. A second and more popular response to the housing shortage, and one much in conformity with Agrarian philosophy, was to encourage the building of new apartment blocks cooperatively financed and thereafter owned by their inhabitants. This reform survived the fall of the Stamboliiski regime and cooperative building continued through the inter-war period.

The German radical Socialist party, the USPD, also had a similar policy in the same period, for the same reasons: to solve the shortage of housing caused by the First World War.

What’s needed isn’t the Bedroom Tax, which is really an excuse to cut Housing Benefit by pretending to withdraw a subsidy that never in fact existed, if tenants of supposedly under-occupied properties don’t move out to suitable homes, which also don’t existed. What is needed to solve the problem is simply building more social and genuinely affordable housing, which the Conservative actively seem to oppose. When the ‘right to buy’ legislation was passed, councils were forbidden from building more council houses, and ‘affordable’ properties are only pegged at 80 per cent of the market worth, which means that in many parts of the London houses are well out of the price range of the very poorest, who need them. It’s possible that cooperation schemes, like those enacted by the Bulgarians, might be part of the solution.

Something like the Bulgarians’ legislation limiting the maximum amount of space families can occupy could also be applied to private housing. The Bulgarian policy was based on the view that you should only possess what you can actually work yourself. Thus there was a maximum amount of land allowed to be cultivated by peasant farmers. Large landowners were forced to sell the excess land to the smaller peasants, so that each peasant farmer had just enough for his needs and those of wider Bulgarian society.

The great French anarchist, P.-J. Proudhon, had a similar view. Much of his Mutualist anarchist system was based on his experience of peasant society in the Jura, where he grew up. While he didn’t set the maximum amount of space people could occupy in their houses, he did recommend that people should lawfully own only what they could actually practically use themselves. Thus, landlords, who held multiple properties, which they rented out, should have all but the property they themselves lived in expropriated and given to the people, who needed them.

I believe a similar policy could be usefully implemented today. Perhaps we need the ‘right to buy’ principle extended to all the private tenants, now forced to rent homes at exorbitant rents because of the way available housing was bought up by people seeking to rent them out later in the housing boom of the 1990s. I also believe that there are many under-occupied private homes, with considerable space going without tenants, in certain parts of London, such as Knightsbridge, Kensington and Westminster.

And possibly Chipping Norton. I can’t see how Dave Cameron, whose government is responsible for the Bedroom Tax, and who has said repeatedly that ‘We’re all in it together’, would possibly object to having to share his home with a couple of crusties.