Monday, 3 December 2012

I am inclined to agree with Ian Hislop ... The Press and the Police

The Metropolitan Police and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs seem to have this in common: they adopt a "light touch" approach to the regulation of the powerful. Faced with evidence of criminal  or very dodgy doing by a seriously big corporation - well, they don't really want to know. After all, we know these people. We play golf with them; we eat dinner with them; we provide them with horses to ride.

Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, argues that laws already existed to deal with the crimes of News International and others. Theft, burglary, bribery and so on are good old-fashioned crimes. Coppers ought to recognise them when they see them and proceed as they're supposed to. You're nicked. We don't need new laws to "regulate" the Press; we need the Metropolitan Police to do its job. Leveson did not find it palatable to state this homely truth.

There seems no particular reason why Met Police officers should be best buddies with the apparatchiks of Press barons but they have been to a remarkable degree. The only real explanation is that police officers want to feed stories to the Press, knowing that in one way or another the press will express its gratitude. Politicians cultivate their Press contacts for similar reasons.

HMRC is now a tainted brand because - for the first time in my life - it's out in the open that it is indulgent towards those who ought to pay lots of tax but intend only to pay a little. It's not exactly deference; it's more like collusion. If we began to pursue cases of "historic evasion" going back to the 70s and 80s, I think it would be at least as eye-opening as investigations into "historic abuse".

But it's not entirely HMRCs fault. Parliament votes for the laws which create taxes and exemptions from taxes. Parliament also creates the principal tax havens in which big corporations and rich individuals seek shelter from the levels of taxation which only poor people end up paying. The House of Lords plays an important role in ensuring that the voice of the rich and powerful is heard. Well, that's not surprising; it's what they are paid for.

So I'll go with Ian Hislop on the Press. Enforce the laws we do have. And on taxation, focus on the role of Parliament in making it all so easy not to.

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