It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has seen his political fortunes plummet more quickly and comprehensively than those of the Labour party in Scotland after the 2014, the previous record holders in the speed and completeness of political death drops. The former golden boy of the Tory party has been revealed as nothing more than a shameless chancer with a carefully burnished brass neck. It’s an astonishing U turn in just a few short weeks, at the beginning of February it was widely doubted by political watchers whether the lying abandoned mattress in 10 Downing Street could survive the week, and Sunak was making none too subtle manoeuvres to put himself in prime position to take the top job. Now it’s equally widely accepted that Johnson has survived and won’t be unseated by Tory MPs even if it turns out that he was fined by the police for his lock down busting parties and is revealed to have lied to Parliament.
It is Rishi Sunak’s career which is now thought to have a shelf life as limited as the many breads which he, or rather, his staff, get from the supermarket for his family at whichever of their many homes they are staying in that day. Sunak’s attempt to avoid answering a question about the price of a loaf of bread by saying that everyone in his family ate different breads was a quip which illustrated just how hopelessly out of touch this immensely wealthy man is with the struggles that ordinary households are facing in order to cope with the soaring cost of living. The tens of thousands of families who now thanks to Conservative policies have to rely on foodbanks in order to keep food on the table aren’t able to choose artisanal loaves in order to pander to the dietary or taste preferences of finicky family members.
The wheels started to come off Sunak’s carefully curated image and his equally carefully plotted path to Number 10 within a few days of his recent spring budget statement. It was a statement which was breath takingly cynical even by the standards of a Conservative party for which breath taking cynicism is now the only thing which counts as a guiding political principle. It was a statement characterised by a complete indifference to tackling even the edges of the hardship facing much of the public due to soaring energy and food bills at a time when the UK is experiencing the greatest fall in living standards since the 1950s.
A man who showed himself unable to deal with using a debit card on a supermarket petrol station forecourt in order to put petrol in an “ordinary car” which it later came out had been borrowed from a supermarket worker for a staged photo op is not a man who has a first hand understanding of the struggles of a low paid worker who can only scrape together the £30 a week it takes to buy petrol to get them to their job by turning down the heating and shopping in the yellow sticker shelves of the supermarket.
When it later came out that Sunak’s wife, the heiress to an Indian billionaire who is reportedly more wealthy than the Queen, had availed herself of the controversial non-dom status in order to save paying an estimated £20 million in tax on overseas earnings, Sunak’s instinctive response was to lie, by attempting to conflate his wife’s non-dom status with her Indian citizenship. Non-dom status is independent of citizenship. It is a tax avoidance measure by which wealthy individuals can pay £30,000 per year to HMRC and no longer have to pay UK taxes on income earned abroad. If the Chancellor’s wife lives in the UK, she is a tax resident in the UK. The fact that she is an Indian citizen is not relevant – non-dom status is a choice. For most people £30,000 is a great deal of money. You are only going to choose to pay the UK tax authorities £30,000 a year if your overseas earnings would otherwise incur a UK tax bill of considerably more than £30,000 a year.
The Chancellor has protested that his family’s tax arrangements are entirely within the rules, but that is to spectacularly miss the point. These are rules which are only accessible to and which are designed to benefit, those who are already extremely wealthy. The man in charge of setting taxes for UK residents who are just doms and not non-doms was happy for his own family to benefit from a tax avoidance scheme even as the rest of us see living standards plummet and public services squeezed to the bone. It’s a classic example of one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.
Sunak hit out by asserting that the revelation was an attempt to “smear” him, seemingly forgetting the crucial point that it’s not a smear if it is the truth. He responded to the revelations with resentment the wounded self-pity of an entitled man who was witnessing the extent of his entitlement coming out, and undoing all the carefully crafted image burnishing upon which he was basing his bid for leadership of the Conservatives.
But it got worse, it later transpired that both Sunak and his wife held US green cards until late 2019. In order to get a green card you must file annual US tax returns and are “responsible for reporting your income and paying taxes on any foreign earned income”. The Chancellor has not clarified whether his wife paid US taxes on her overseas earnings, but not UK tax, while taking advantage of her non-dom status.
The Chancellor now wants an investigation to find out who it was who leaked the information about his wife’s tax status to the press. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that the occupant of number 11 Downing Street need not look much further than his neighbour in number 10.
However here’s a wee suggestion for Rishi, Instead of an inquiry into who leaked his wife’s non-dom tax status, and caused him political embarrassment by revealing the truth about his own family’s tax avoidance, how about an inquiry into how £4.3 billion has been “written off” to fraudulent furlough payments and another into how a US Green card holder can become a Chancellor here?
The Conservative are the party of those who are awash with wealth and entitlement who are unwilling to help those who are left out as money and property are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. This is what happens when you have a political system like Westminster’s which prevents the powerful from being held to account.
Update : Just an hour or so after publishing this piece it was announced that both Johnson and Sunak are to be fined by the police for breaking the law during lock down and attending gatherings in Downing Street in breach of the rules the rest of us had to follow. On 7 December 2021 Rishi Sunak told MPs in the chamber of the Commons, “No, I did not attend any parties.” Given that the police have fined him for attending an illegal gathering it now looks as though this statement was either misleading or an outright lie, unless Sunak is going to tell us that it couldn’t have been a party because he was wearing a suit. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been exposed as law breakers who have misled Parliament and the public. If there was a shred of honour and decency left in public life in the UK they would both resign, but there is more chance of Putin admitting that his war in Ukraine was catastrophic mistake than there is of that happening.
Tomorrow I have to go to Edinburgh for an NHS assessment to find out what I will need in order to be able to drive again. I have been told that the only way I will be able to drive in future is with a specially adapted car. Tomorrow’s assessment is to find out what specific adaptations will be needed. Being able to drive again will go a long way to restoring my independence as I can only walk very short distances with the aid of a walking stick and am unable to carry shopping as I need my good hand for holding the walking stick. I can only use public transport with great difficulty as I cannot stand for any length of time. I’ve been told that the adaptations needed to a car are likely to cost around £1300, although if my application for PIP is successful it will be only £200 and I may be eligible for a mobility car. The advice centre worker who filled in the PIP application form for me said that she thought I had a very good case for getting PIP as I require significant assistance with daily living tasks, however applications are taking months to be processed, so I won’t find out the result of my application any time soon.
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