Zac Goldsmith's unconvincing defence

Cameron must declare that avoiding tax is morally unacceptable

Zac Goldsmith has come out fighting after the Sunday Times exposed his non-domicile tax status, insisting that he derives "very few benefits" from the arrangement.

Goldsmith may say that he plans to relinquish his non-dom status in the near future, but this won't do. What took him until now? Is this promise contingent on his election as a Tory MP?

The Liberal Democrats, whom Goldsmith plans to challenge in Richmond, have unsurprisingly greeted the revelations as an early Christmas present. Susan Kramer's chances of holding on to what was a very winnable seat for the Tories have improved considerably.

Goldsmith's position as the Conservative candidate appears secure. A Tory spokesman rather lamely declared: "Zac Goldsmith's private affairs are a matter for him." CCHQ should make it clear that avoiding tax is no more morally acceptable than claiming excessive expenses.

The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan offers the hope that "grass-roots Tories can summon up as much indignation about those who keep their wealth out of the taxman's reach as they do about the behaviour of women candidates". There doesn't seem to be much chance of that. We're yet to witness a hint of dissent from the local party.

Goldsmith's arrangement, combined with the continuing ambiguity over Lord Ashcroft's tax status, is a gift to the Tories' opponents and could become a headache for the party in the run-up to the election.

David Cameron may have promised to bring in an era of transparent "Google government", but he'd do well to begin by opening up his own party.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.