The Arctic Monkeys sing of working class life, but used the Liberty tax scheme. Photo: Getty
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Tax Avoidance: Why it stings more when it's musicians

We expect corporations to dodge their civic responsibilities, but musicians are meant to speak for everyman. They leave Main St when they try to avoid tax on their millions.

Revelations of tax avoidance aren't new. Another is predictably unearthed before the last tips off the conveyor belt. However, there's been a distinct ripple in the works following allegations that a series of high-profile British musicians, including Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys, have been using a scheme called Liberty, storing money offshore in Jersey. Had these been global corporations with byzantine tax arrangements, like Starbucks or Topshop, we might condemn them, but would we feel let down? Probably not. And the belt would keep on trudging along.

Musicians are meant to be different. Throughout history, political unrest or upheaval has been articulated and characterised by movements such as punk, and musicians like The Clash. Music is the product of counterculture and the working class, and those who voice our lives purport to do so with empathy. Or so we thought.

George Michael, who once penned a song about life on benefits, now believes it's perfectly acceptable to let his wealth accumulate in Jersey. "I would feel enormously unhappy about paying 50 per cent tax to another Tory government," says George, like a true Thatcherite individualist, as if we all have a choice. 

Hypocrisy is what stings us hardest. When it is those who celebrate the beneficiaries of taxation who suddenly flaunt how little they pay, it punches like betrayal. Some will label that reactionary, but there's no doubting musicians' foibles evoke a greater sense of disappointment than Starbucks and Topshop. Those brands have never pretended to understand us; they exist in a profit-fuelled world of fierce competition. 

It is true that some of the artists using the Liberty scheme may not have much of an opinion on isolated political policies, but neither do much of the public. Instead, it's their general attitude that cements the unique bond between us and musicians: the rebellious, anti-establishment feeling; the alienation and oppression; the humanity and emotion. Such traits are what we identify with.

Their tales are of the streets we walked; streets that were built by public investment. They were born in NHS hospitals, attended state-funded schools. The Arctic Monkeys flourished as a result of incisive and witty lyrics of social realism that chimed with the everyman. And yet, any reference to civic pride from now on will be warped with bitter irony. It's therefore no surprise that these revelations have disappointed us more than usual, and it just goes to show, their pockets may be a little denser, but the charge of hypocrisy is a much greater burden than a few less zeros on your bank statement.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.