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30 November 2009

Zac Goldsmith’s unconvincing defence

Cameron must declare that avoiding tax is morally unacceptable

By George Eaton

Zac Goldsmith has come out fighting after the Sunday Times exposed his non-domicile tax status, insisting that he derives “very few benefits” from the arrangement.

Goldsmith may say that he plans to relinquish his non-dom status in the near future, but this won’t do. What took him until now? Is this promise contingent on his election as a Tory MP?

The Liberal Democrats, whom Goldsmith plans to challenge in Richmond, have unsurprisingly greeted the revelations as an early Christmas present. Susan Kramer’s chances of holding on to what was a very winnable seat for the Tories have improved considerably.

Goldsmith’s position as the Conservative candidate appears secure. A Tory spokesman rather lamely declared: “Zac Goldsmith’s private affairs are a matter for him.” CCHQ should make it clear that avoiding tax is no more morally acceptable than claiming excessive expenses.

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The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan offers the hope that “grass-roots Tories can summon up as much indignation about those who keep their wealth out of the taxman’s reach as they do about the behaviour of women candidates”. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. We’re yet to witness a hint of dissent from the local party.

Goldsmith’s arrangement, combined with the continuing ambiguity over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status, is a gift to the Tories’ opponents and could become a headache for the party in the run-up to the election.

David Cameron may have promised to bring in an era of transparent “Google government”, but he’d do well to begin by opening up his own party.

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