Tory non-doms ditch the Lords but keep their titles. Shame on them

Good riddance, I say, to all slackers and tax avoiders.

The deadline by which members of the House of Lords had to become fully UK-resident for tax purposes passed last night.

Guess how many peers chose to quit the Lords rather than sacrifice their cherished non-domiciled tax status? Five. Lords Foster, Bagri, Laidlaw and McAlpine and Baroness Dunn. Most of them spend very little time in the UK, and even less time turning up to vote or speak in the upper chamber.

Three things worth noting:

1) Despite the fuss that the Tories tried to kick up over the multimillionaire Labour peer (and former deputy speaker of the Lords) Lord Paul, none of the five leaving the Lords is a Labour (or Lib Dem) peer. (Lord Paul also confirmed to me in an interview four months ago that he would be ending his non-dom status this year.) Three out of five (Bagri, Laidlaw and McAlpine) are Tories (the other two are cross-benchers); Laidlaw was one of the most important Tory donors, contributing £4m to the party's coffers.

2) Lord Ashcroft, the Tories' biggest donor and former deputy party chairman, whose "target seats" strategy failed to secure David Cameron a Commons majority, has confirmed that he is giving up his controversial non-dom status in order to stay on in the Lords.

3) It is "absurd", as Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, observes, that these five scampering peers are able to retain their titles (as lords and baroness). For once, I agree with the Daily Mail headline: "Why in the name of justice are peers who quit the Lords to avoid paying tax not stripped of their titles?"

But let's be honest: the debate over non-doms in the Lords is a distraction from the real issue, which is the upper chamber itself.

While I acknowledge that some life peers do hard work and make good contributions to legislative debates, the House of Lords is, in and of itself, an undemocratic, antediluvian, elitist anachronism.

If Nick Clegg and his Con-Dem coalition allies can, once and for all, rid this country of unelected peers and introduce a wholly elected second chamber, I for one will be eternally grateful to them.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era