Magazine article The Spectator

Move over, St Patrick, We Need Your Day for the Blessed Prudence, Virgin and Martyr

Magazine article The Spectator

Move over, St Patrick, We Need Your Day for the Blessed Prudence, Virgin and Martyr

Article excerpt

The Spectator is a broad church, so an issue devoted to faith and reason may surely reflect on the Budget. I propose that March 17, hitherto St Patrick's Day, should commemorate the Blessed Prudence, virgin and martyr. The Golden Legend tells of her chaste association with a zealot, whom she sought to lead in the paths of fiscal righteousness. He made a show of their friendship but cruelly used her to divert attention from his backslidings. At last, betrayed and discarded, she wasted away: obiit 17 March 2004. Revisionist hagiographers, having cast doubt on St George and St Christopher, will ask themselves whether the Blessed Prudence ever existed. There was only one late, fleeting, nostalgic wave to her memory in the zealot's latest Budget. Though it came in his usual bludgeoning tones, was filled out with his usual fiddling initiatives, and left us, as usual, to pick the bad news out of the small print, this might have been a Budget from an earlier era, relying on a dash for growth, with a general election at the winning-post. Borrowing, he now asserts, is part of a healthy economic diet, keeping us going through the lean years and, apparently, the fat ones, too. Public spending will drive the economy forward, leaving the risks and the bills to be carried over to another day, and faced, perhaps, by another Chancellor. Sooner or later, the spending binge has to end, the public finances must be brought back into order, and there will be no painless way to do that. All the same, it would have Prudence's blessing.

Overloaded taxmen

Already the Inland Revenue is buckling under the Chancellor's burdens. Although its payroll has swollen by 40 per cent, the weight of his annual Finance Acts has increased even faster. It has to administer his cherished tax credits, and admits to having got them spectacularly wrong. Now he wants to make it a part of his power-hungry Treasury, and move it into his palace on the corner of Parliament Square, so that he can keep watch on it. There, it will form part of his vast new tax-extracting machine, to be constructed by merging the Inland Revenue with the Customs and Excise. This tidy-minded marriage has been made in Whitehall, not in heaven. A tetchier union of opposites - the cerebral inspectors of taxes and the smuggler-busting excisemen - would be hard to propose. Taxpayers, however, may look on the bright side. By the time the merger and move are all over, any number of files will have been lost for ever, and the Chancellor will continue to wonder what has happened to his revenues. Perhaps Russian lessons are the answer.

The Putin touch

We can all see what happens to oligarchs who fall foul of President Putin. They are charged with tax evasion and slung into prison for leisurely questioning. This helps with the revenue, and does not seem to have done Mr Putin any harm with the electorate. If only, his pupil must murmur. If only all of his prospective taxpayers would simply pay up and look happy, how much happier he, too, would be. Why, his sums might even work out. The law seems to get in the way, though, and the more elaborate he makes it, the more scope the tax experts seem to find for argument. …

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