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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.