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 can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.