No, Mr Tubby Tycoon, dodging your tax tab is NOT a jolly clever wheeze
00:37 GMT, 2 December 2012
Toughening up: The Government has said it wants to do more to combat tax-avoidance scheme which are estimated to cost the UK billions every year in lost revenue
The Government, pressured by the Liberal Democrats, appears intent on tackling tax avoidance.
Revelations about the lengths individuals and corporations go in order to avoid paying their fair share have reminded me of an evening in 2008 that I spent on the same dinner table as a minor-league oligarch.
We were at a French film festival and this gentleman spent a long time boasting how he'd jetted in privately from Moscow. His latest London home, he informed me, had cost 12million to refurbish. There was, I recall, a great deal of moaning how difficult it was to get trained domestic staff in our capital.
Just before I tipped off my chair with boredom, he launched into a tirade about the proposal, now law, to levy an annual 30,000 tax on non-doms those UK residents who love living in our green and pleasant land but feel no compulsion to pay for the pleasure like the rest of us.
I gently pointed out that his flight to the festival had cost more than twice as much as that but this failed to dull his rage.
The gist of his argument was that this sort of 'victimisation' would put him off London. He warned that his departure would rock our economy because of the British employees he would lay off. The Government better take note. There may even have been finger wagging.
From his tone I imagined hundreds of destitute employees but it turned out his workforce consisted of a housekeeper, two maids, a driver and a PA. I couldn't decide whether to laugh or lunge at his portly belly with my cheese knife.
Such behaviour is far from unusual. Whether it is media figures, bankers, businessmen, footballers, television presenters or non-doms, it is widely accepted that outwitting the taxman is a jolly good wheeze.
Many of us, in minor ways, are probably at it ourselves. Yet we live in a democracy and have the privilege of voting for a Government who taxation policy we consider fair. So should the levels of tax we pay be determined by elected representatives or by the ability to afford tax specialists in order to dodge them
Along with the endless attempts to close legal loopholes, the Government also needs to work on changing cultural attitudes. We need an inspired advertising genius to 'reposition' tax avoidance as something shameful, akin to shoplifting or drink-driving.
Taxes in the UK thankfully don't go into secret Swiss bank accounts as they do many of the nations our non-doms flock from. They pay for the services that make living in the UK so pleasant.
How can my Russian companion and his fellow tax-dodgers disparage the people on whom they rely to subsidise their free ride Whether it's the top rate of tax or the basic, most people fork out without giant accountancy firms to help them reduce or wipe out their contribution. We may feel a bit grumpy about it, but we do it.
Dodging your tax tab is an insult to the millions of UK citizens who pay theirs. I'm all for naming and shaming the millionaires and oligarchs, corporations and industries. But the Chancellor needs to tackle a culture where tax-shirkers feel no compunction in boasting about their schemes, while the rest of us sit nodding in complicity as though it were the cleverest thing in the world.
The Yanks get Kyra…we got nobody
Popular: Actress Kyra Sedgwick starred in US TV show the rip which has become the most-viewed cable show of all time
Spare a thought for an actress friend, who must remain anonymous, who called to bemoan the lack of parts for women over the age of 40 on British TV.
With two huge UK TV drama series being cast, The Three Muskateers and Dracula, she was hopeful work might pick up. Instead she'd had a call from her agent: 'Darling, I want to get you a job more than anything else in the world but there's nothing out there for women over 25, and on the rare occasion there is a part, every other actress over 25 is fishing for it, so the competition is impossible.'
With the vast majority of TV audiences made of females over the age of 50, it makes one wonder why British executives aren't catering for them. US TV companies appear to accept the power of this demographic after police drama The Closer, starring fortysomething Kyra Sedgwick, became the most viewed cable show of all time. The series has now ended and been replaced by Rizzoli & Isles starring middle-aged Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. In the UK, it seems we see mature women on TV only when they're in period costumes.
Get fit – on celeb-free diet
Leveson aside, the news has been all about the nation's health. In an attempt to stop binge-drinking, the minimum price of a unit is to be set at 45p and those magic words 'two for one' are to be erased from the commercial lexicon when it comes to alcohol.
While we were still reeling from the shock of that announcement, there came one from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the organisation charged with overseeing the nation's health. It wants us to tackle obesity by getting out from behind our steering wheels and is urging an increase in parking charges in order to persuade us – or possibly bully us – into using our cars less.
A far greater threat to the nation's health than either of the above is our addiction to reading about footballers' infedelities, celebrity love affairs and the weight gains and losses of starlets. If we stopped living vicariously through the likes of Nancy Dell'Olio and X Factor contestants we might get off the sofa and focus more on improving our own lives.
Not only would it rid newspapers of some of their least interesting fare but it would also create space for the quality journalism we're told Leveson will return us to.
Mick's still got his swagger…even at 69
I made it to the O2 to see The Rolling Stones. The band, like me, turned 50 this year – but what an eye-opener. I was under the impression that I wasn't faring too badly until I watched Mick Jagger wriggle, writhe and jog around the enormous stage for two hours as he reeled out a succession of classics.
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Tireless: Mick Jagger has shown he still has plenty of energy on the Rolling Stones recent tour including this gig at the O2 Arena in London