Ken Livingstone: 'a hypocrite worthy of Swift or Dickens'

Only one of these men is a tax avoider

A magnificent piece from Nick Cohen on KenCo’s £50,000 tax avoidance in today’s Observer. Many people on the left, including lots of the party’s London MPs and council leaders, privately admit what the polls also tell us – that Livingstone is a blight on the progressive, liberal and Labour cause. But only a few of them, including Cohen and a handful of London MPs and journalists (step forward, among others, Rushanara Ali and Martin Bright) have the courage to say it in public.

It’s wet, we don’t feel like going out on our bikes, so I’ve spent part of the afternoon laughing quite hard at the desperation of Ken Ltd’s defenders in the comments thread under Nick’s piece. “Pernod” posts: “This article is a hatchet job… £50,000!  That wouldn’t buy you a broom cupboard in London. What a storm in a teacup.”

“Natascha” is of the view that “the Tories, and their apologists, like Nick Cohen, are suddenly worried that his policies such as reducing transport costs, and bringing back EMAs are both popular and costed. They can’t attack the policies, so they are trying to attack the man.” Defending KenCo’s earnings (£232k in 2009 alone) “The Murdoch Tendency 2” avers that working for Iran’s Press TV was merely how KenCo “kept himself in the public eye in spite of a deliberate institutional effort to kill his career” by, er, the Guardian and the BBC. There is an even-larger-than-normal amount of what the pyschologists call “deflection,” of the “Nick Cohen supported the Iraq war” or “this story should be in the Telegraph/Mail/Evening Standard” type.

But what is notable is the absence of a single serious argument defending Livingstone’s practice of channelling his earnings through a personal company, paying 21% corporation tax rather than 40% income tax, while at the same calling for “everyone to pay the same rate of tax on what they earn.” And what’s most telling of all is the almost total silence of Ken’s usual supporters and media groupies on this issue and this story. I demand one of those Dave Hill pieces where he pleads with us to see the latest gaffe in context!

The comments I liked best were from “prolierthanthou,” who noted in response to one anti-Standard jeremiad: “Let’s not forget [Ken’s] principled stand against the Daily Mail / Evening Standard was best evidenced by being their restaurant critic. Now what’s what I call taking it to the man and bringing down the system from the inside.” And then there was “mickGJ,” who wrote:  “Ken has done nothing illegal: the tax authorities cannot punish him for this. That pleasant duty falls to the people of London.”

PS Interviewed by Andrew Marr in his normal rapier-like fashion  today, Boris Johnson said: “I want a crackdown on tax dodgers and tax avoiders of all kinds.” Whoever can he have had in mind?

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