Nicky Morgan. Photo: Getty
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Nicky Morgan appears to agree that non-doms should pay tax. What?

But she’s a Conservative minister! This mole is confused.

Nicky Morgan, Conservative education minister, was the sole Tory spokesperson on the Today programme this morning, so she was the unlucky enough to have to respond to Labour’s “non-doms should pay tax” policy announcement. (An actual policy being announced during a general election campaign, I hear you say? Try not to be too surprised, they slip out sometimes.)

Jim Naughtie naughtily tacked it onto an otherwise unremarkable interview about primary education. That’s when it all got confusing.

The key part is here, at about 2hrs40mins.

Morgan says:

Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

She makes it sound as if all reasonable people would, of course, agree that people living in this country should pay tax on their earnings. Except that hasn’t been her government’s policy up until now, and she’s currently supposed to be rebutting exactly this proposal from the opposition party. Naughtie pounces:

Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

She responds:

Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

They go back and forth a few more times on the levy, and then Naughtie gently reminds her that this “isn’t your government’s policy”. At which point she staggers backwards and attempts to walk to party line for the rest of the interview.

This mole is confused. What should reasonable people be agreeing with about non-doms paying tax, Minister Morgan?

Here’s a transcript of the whole exchange:

NM My reaction is that once you look at the detail, actually they’re not proposing to abolish non-dom status. They’re talking about potentially changing the length of time someone will be able to be here...

JN ...they’re tightening the rules, no argument about that, they’re tightening the rules. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

NM Well, we have already tightened the rules in this parliament. And we are very clear, the Conservative Party and George Osborne in the Treasury has been very clear that people who are based here should pay taxes here, we’ve introduced from last week a tax on companies...

JN ...Well hang on, a lot of them don’t...

NM But we have absolutely cracked down. We’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament, non-doms are paying more than they’ve ever paid before. Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

JN Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

NM Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

JN Well why aren’t they?

NM We have increased the non-dom levy...

JN No, the levy is one thing, and the level at which it is set is one thing, paying the tax is another. Are you saying they should pay the tax? Because that’s not your government’s policy.

NM I’m saying that we have at the Treasury clawed back £5bn in this parliament, a crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion and I think that’s exactly what we should do. They’re now paying more in stamp duty...

JN That’s a different issue...

NM I think it’s overall the same issue, that people who are based here should pay their taxes here, and that’s exactly why the diverted profit tax which we saw come into force last week is exactly what we have done in this parliament, because those taxes are essential to pay for those essential services, like education, health and other critical public services which people expect to be fully funded.

JN Are you saying that you, personally, from what you’ve just said, would like to see people with non-dom status paying tax in this country on their overseas earnings?

NM Well, I think we can have the debate about it. I think what the Labour Party are...

JN No, I’m just asking you. Would you like that to happen?

NM What the Labour Party are not being clear about today is on whether they are intending to abolish non-dom status, or simply change or consult on the length of time people would be here to before they have to pay their taxes...

JN Well, that’s fine. John talked to Ed Balls about that earlier. But I’m asking you: would you like to see non-doms paying tax on their overseas earnings or not?

NM Well, we certainly...As I say, that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament. Non-doms are now paying more in this parliament thanks to the Conseravtive-led government policies over the course of the past five years, I think that’s the right thing to happen.

JN Nicky Morgan, thank you very much.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.