Those of us who specialise in tax have suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a popular frenzy. Not so long ago, announcing to the man or woman in the street or at a party that you worked in tax would be tantamount to suggesting that your main love in life was the enjoyment of tedium. Suddenly though, tax has become the new football or perhaps more pertinently, politics.
In the past, except when Dave Hartnett jumped on to his high horse to attack some particular abuse or the latest Chancellor of the Exchequer got out his dispatch box, nobody realised that tax existed unless they had to pay it.
All that has changed as, in the last couple of months, a stream of exciting tax stories has regularly hit the headlines. My measure of importance for these purposes is an appearance on the main hourly news during Radio Four's ‘Today’ programme.
Without taking the kind of care that a proper researcher would, it is easy to identify no fewer than eight prime-time stories, all of which have as their underlying theme the taxation of the nation.
It will be interesting to learn of other stories that have been missed out from a list that currently includes
- The reputedly and reportedly pernicious withdrawal of tax relief from donations to charity by the wealthy
- George Osborne's Granny tax - the entirely coincidental slow removal of enhanced personal allowances from the elderly
- The reduction of the highest rate of tax from 50% to 45%
- The desire of Cabinet Ministers and mayoral candidates to have their tax returns published (but not those of their families)
- An unwarranted indictment of a well-known football manager for failure to pay taxes that the courts established were never due
- A popular football club’s descent into administration, partly resulting from its inability to settle employment tax liabilities
- A requirement for partners and spouses to share tax return information as part of the mechanism for claiming tax credits
- And last and most certainly least, that good old tax on luke-warm pasties.
So popular has tax become that the other night, I had a long chat with a media pundit who has become a household name in the arts field. What did we talk about? Certainly not Meryl Streep, Al Pacino or Kevin Spacey let alone Sir David Hare and Terence Rattigan whose works brought us together. For about half an hour the esteemed personality was intent on understanding exactly how a £1m donation to charity has been and will be taxed.
In this climate, we should all be proud of working in a profession that is not only exciting and rewarding but now also extremely high profile. It can only be a matter of time before John Whiting and Francesca Lagerberg have their own early morning TV shows exclusively devoted to informing the country about what is fast becoming its favourite subject.
In the meantime, having proved to my own surprise that it is possible to speak to camera for a solid hour without company in a recent webinar on unemployment taxes, I shall be pitching to a number of media organisations to see whether there are any openings for a versatile journalist/reporter with vast experience in the only field that really matters. Keep an eye (or ear) out.