Harry Potter and the Wizard of Belize
"We feel that this (lack of provision of an effective regulatory system) might be a grave omission, since it is notorious that this particular territory, in common with Bermuda, attracts all sorts of financial wizards, some of whose activities we can well believe should be controlled in the public interest”
- Extract from a memorandum concerning the Bahamas dated 3rd November 1961 submitted by Mr W.G.Hulland of the Colonial Office to Mr B.E.Bennett at the Bank of England. (From the Bank of England archive.)
On the subject of wizards, there is a really superb long article in the Times newspaper called The single mother's manifesto, by the author J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter chronicles. It follows a debate yesterday by three British Prime Ministerial candidates for the forthcoming general election, and a comment by David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, promising a hundred and fifty pounds a year more for single mothers, and his comment "it’s not the money, it’s the message”.
Here are a couple of snippets that give a flavour of where Rowling is coming from:
"I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government.
. . .
Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say “it’s not the money, it’s the message”. When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money. If Mr Cameron’s only practical advice to women living in poverty, the sole carers of their children, is “get married, and we’ll give you £150”, he reveals himself to be completely ignorant of their true situation."
But here is where she cuts to the issue of tax justice.
"I never, ever, expected to find myself in a position where I could understand, from personal experience, the choices and temptations open to a man as rich as Lord Ashcroft. The fact remains that the first time I ever met my recently retired accountant, he put it to me point-blank: would I organise my money around my life, or my life around my money? If the latter, it was time to relocate to Ireland, Monaco, or possibly Belize.
I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.
A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug.
Child poverty remains a shameful problem in this country, but it will never be solved by throwing millions of pounds of tax breaks at couples who have no children at all. David Cameron tells us that the Conservatives have changed, that they are no longer the “nasty party”, that he wants the UK to be “one of the most family-friendly nations in Europe”, but I, for one, am not buying it. He has repackaged a policy that made desperate lives worse when his party was last in power, and is trying to sell it as something new. I’ve never voted Tory before ... and they keep on reminding me why."
We can only take our hat off to J.K. Rowling for these words. We already like the stand taken by other celebrities such as Katie Melua and Graham Norton, in contrast to other supposed saints like Bono and Bob Geldof.
We have already seen wealthy Germans getting together to seek higher taxes on wealthy people. Perhaps it's an idea that could catch on elsewhere.