With the 'revelation' of Lord Ashcroft's non-dom status, amidst all the mudslinging, point scoring, 'Your donor is richer and more of a tax-dodger than mine…' and general yah, boo, sucks! it is easy to loose sight of the fact that a peer of the realm, who could easily be a powerful player in the governance of the country openly does not keep promises and blatantly thinks they are in the right, firmly denying the pervasive mood of the country. Like our old pals and their expenses, he may be within the letter, but is very far from the spirit, of the law.
A shift of scene, six or seven years ago, with Lord Ashcroft's promise to become a UK taxpayer from 2001, a fleeing memory, the city in which I lived, or more precisely it's council, changed their housing benefit policy. Rather than receive the amount of rent. You now would receive a flat rate, and either have to make up the short fall, or if the flat rate were more than the amount of rent you could keep the difference.
At this time I lived in a shared flat with an extremely honest flat mate, he had lived off savings for a year before even claiming HB and could not believe that this money was his to keep. He spent a few hours on the phone trying to find who to return the money to. No one seemed interested, in fact many with whom he spoke were amazed that he wasn't happy to keep the money. Eventually one council worker said, why don't you keep the money aside and look for a nicer flat?
My pal didn't take this advice, but I did. Not long after I found a flat share out of town and made plans to move. Moving is a big hassle and quite an expense, and here, hands up, is my dishonest downfall. When I returned to my old flat to pick up the mail, there was a fresh HB cheque. I know I shouldn't have, but I was skint, I'd just moved...
Only once I told my self, after the third time the cheques stopped coming. Then I got a few letters at my new address, and a visit from HB investigators, they offered me an option of re-paying the overpayment with an 50% surcharge, which I accepted, but having insufficient income, I could only manage a token sum, when I moved again, I took an un-authorised repayment holiday.
At my latest address, the council took me to court, where I agreed to pay back the 150% amount, plus further fees, at a set amount per month, which I did until I lost my job. Go on to miss 2 payments and there is a letter from the Sheriff’s Officer demanding the full amount in 14 days, or wages may be arrested, and goods seized, leading even to bankruptcy. My friends say the best option is to move, and not register to vote, as the electoral roll is how my creditors, those who've bought my debt and their agents, have tracked me down. Many with bigger or smaller debt than mine have dropped off the radar, to avoid or delay legal action, I foolishly perhaps, think my vote is still worth something.
The next day, too soon for action for many people I presume, and certainly for me, two Sheriff’s officers arrive with the same papers, adding their own fees to the total. I know these are just guys doing a job in hard times, but it is hard not to think of the words vultures and jackals. And wouldn’t the effort to pursue me, be better spent collecting tax from the super rich tax avoiders?
Good news, I got a (part time - seasonal - temporary) job! I start in 4 weeks, but, less good news, I won't get any money for 6 weeks. The dole will stop the day I start work, the bank will not extend my overdraft or consider a loan. I've been trying to sell a few items of small value online since Christmas, but no one's buying... If I had my tax rebate the wolf could be kept from the door, but that cannot be claimed until next month. The amount I now 'owe' has almost doubled from the original overpayment. In all that time I have earned very little above minimum wage or been unemployed.
What would be the amount of Lord Ashcroft's taxes if he had paid them as a full UK resident from the day he became a peer? What would be the amount if this were doubled with fees, and surcharges? And lastly what would be the actual effect on Lord Ashcroft's life if he had to cough up the full amount in 14 days, or else; "wages may be arrested, and goods seized, leading even to bankruptcy"? I’ll pay this debt off, it’ll take 5-6 years, but if I’m on the electoral roll I’ve little choice.
Only the choice to drop off the radar and loose what feels like an increasingly worthless vote… Unlike our MPs I don't have the means to simply write a cheque for the full amount concerned in the 'misunderstanding'. On the day one of the last socialists died, the day my papers were served, should I give up my tiny voice in government? While fatter cat's by far, pocketing tens of thousands of times the amount I’m pursued for, prepare to take that Government's reins.