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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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.