Putin welcomes tax exile Depardieu with open arms

Putin has offered Gérard Depardieu an escape route from Hollande's 75 per cent tax by granting him Russian nationality.

Vladimir Putin  has today signed a decree that grants Russian citizenship to French film veteran Gérard Depardieu. 

This is the latest development in the brouhaha surrounding the actor's very public opposition to François Hollande's proposed 75 per cent tax on those earning over 1m euros. The proposal was rejected by the French Constitutional Court on Sunday on the grounds it is unfair as it will be applied only to individuals. The President insists that he will push through a revised version of the measure. 

Depardieu expressed his intention to give up his French nationality in an open letter to to French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault, who had previously described the actor as "pathetic" and "unpatriotic".

According to France's civil code, which rules that a person cannot be stateless, Putin's offer of a passport will allow Depardieu to give up his French nationality. His earnings will now be subject to Russian tax, which is fixed at 13 per cent. 

The actor has a warm relationship with the Russian leader, who had  already declared two weeks ago that “If Gérard wants a Russian passport, it is a done deal”. Meanwhile, last week Depardieu was heard in his Parisian restaurant boasting, “Putin has already sent me a passport.”

Depardieu also has close ties with Chechnya's  controversial President Ramzan Kadyrof, who has been accused by human rights groups of persecuting his critics, among other offences. The actor was filmed at Kadyrif's birthday party in October 2012 making a rousing speech in which he cried “Glory to Ramzan Kadryof”. He is well-known in Russia, appearing in television campaigns for a grocery chain, Sovietski bank and a brand of ketchup.

He has recently purchased a home in the Belgian border town of Néchin, where he now officially resides. Almost a third of the town's inhabitants are French, and it is well-known as a tax avoidancpied à terre for France's high-earners. Depardieu reportedly still spends much of his time in Paris.

Vladimir Putin has offered Gérard Depardieu an escape route from higher taxes (Getty Images)
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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times