Congratulations to the Sunday Telegraph, first winner of the Ken Livingstone Award for Fiscal Hypocrisy

Nik Darlington 11.22am

The Sunday Telegraph was in a bit of a flap yesterday over revelations that nine members of the Labour party’s front bench team have been receiving free advisory work from professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna, Jim Murphy, Caroline Flint, Liam Byrne and David Hanson from the front bench, as well as Alistair Darling and John Healey, are among those Labour MPs to have received approximately £270,000 worth of staff secondments from PwC. Senior Conservatives, including Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin and Philip Hammond, received similar assistance when in opposition.

It is pretty ropey journalism, evidence of the growing trend in the print media that if it involves a private firm that makes lots of money, a tax angle, and a disclosure from the MPs’ register with a number attached, it must be a story. This one shouldn’t - or, at least, not how it has been presented.

  1. Has it not occurred to anyone that it might be useful for potential ministers to get this? It should be welcome news that current Cabinet ministers and potential Labour ministers have benefited from this type of advice. Many politicians (acutely so in the Labour party) are hopelessly unprepared for managing large multi-million pound organisations, which is what government departments are. This arrangement ought not be scoffed at. The newspaper complains that Labour’s assistance is on a “far larger scale” than the Tories’, but so what? I’d bet confidently that more Tory politicians have proper management experience. And considering several of Labour’s current recipients are directly implicated in a decade of mismanagement of Whitehall and the public finances, they probably need some remedial education.
  2. It is chancy, Pecksniffian journalism. The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay brothers, whose own situation as tax exiles in the Channel Islands would make fascinating reading (well not really, I couldn’t care less and nor should you, but you ought to get my point). What’s more, it is hypocritical (so obvious as to seem deliberate) for a newspaper in its main section to hurl abuse at companies who help clients to reduce their tax bills, and in its Money supplement run articles advising readers how to avoid paying too much themselves. (As an online example, see this blog last week instructing Telegraph readers “how to avoid being caught”.)
  3. Tax avoidance is not illegal. Newspapers, politicians, journalists and vocal members of the public with their own vested interests should stop pretending it is.

Just for a bit of fun, I am inaugurating a new award: the Ken Livingstone Award for Fiscal Hypocrisy. Congratulations to its first recipient, the Sunday Telegraph.