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They can tax me, but the moral high ground is mine
by Susie Hughes at 17:29 04/12/12 (Viewpoint)
Since when has the Government of this country felt able to abrogate their responsibilities as law-makers and pass it to the moral judgement of the individuals?
In a Utopian land, everyone would know right from wrong; good from bad. But the fact that we strive collectively to evolve into a law-abiding state means that someone, somewhere has to make the laws. And that - for better or worse - is what we appoint our political representatives to do.

Now we have politicians who pontificate about people doing the right thing by virtue of their own moral code instead of the law of the land.

There is no doubt that latter-day Robin Hoods or present day looters can make a moral justification of stealing from the rich to pay the poor, or for a worthwhile redistribution of wealth. But that is not a defence in the eyes of the law or the courts because, regardless of your moral justification, burglary and theft are illegal as written in the legislation, ratified by Parliament, marshaled by the police, understood by all and upheld by the courts.

So is every other misdemeanor or crime you can think of - from none payment of a television license to murder and piracy on the High Seas (if that one still exists!).

They are, of course, also immoral - but that's not what gets you banged up, that's not what is expected to bring civilised behaviour to our streets and social conformity.

It's the law that matters and a clear and concise set of rules or laws which must be obeyed by everyone who chooses to live in freedom in the UK. The greater good of society is too important to be left to an individual's moral judgement. So why are politicians - of all people - berating tax payers for failing to adhere to an undefined moral code?

Moral compass
Recently politicians have got on the band-wagon of trying to define paying the 'right' amount of tax as a moral rather than a legal duty. A quick look at a dictionary definition of morality shows why it won't work:
Morality: founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities....

We have had a number of recent examples of politicians choosing to define tax payments as a moral rather than a legal responsibility.

Chancellor George Osborne typifies this when he said he regards "tax evasion and indeed aggressive tax avoidance as morally repugnant". What is the legal definition of 'morally repugnant', what is the prison sentence or penalty for being 'morally repugnant' and what is aggressive tax avoidance as opposed to tax avoidance and are either of them illegal?

One man's meat of fundamental principles of right conduct are another man's poison of tax avoidance.

Glass houses
Members of Parliament are perhaps the last people who should take up the 'the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play' in an attempt to hide behind the cloak of it might have been a bit 'iffy but I didn't do anything illegal, Guv?'.

If moral issues are black and white, how come so many MPs were quick to defend their highly immoral - some might say - behaviour of fiddling their expenses by saying they hadn't broken the rules?

How many times in the past few years have MPs defended their pilfering of the public purse - that is, our money - for house switching, swopping, dodgy expense claims, family members on the payroll etc, by claiming 'they hadn't broken a law'?

So it was the law's fault if it allowed them to operate in this way!

Now they have the audacity to tell the public that they are 'morally wrong' if they act in a legal way, but against 'the spirit of the law' and some sort of undefined moral code.

Moral judgement implies choice within a code of behaviour. If tax is a question of choice it means that the legislators have got it badly wrong.

Tax should not be a question of choice or moral code. It should be a question of a legal right and a legal wrong. And if the Treasury can't make it that clear then they are doing something badly wrong.

It will be interesting tomorrow when the Chancellor stands up to give his Autumn Statement to see how much of the responsibility for tax avoidance or evasion (I think the distinction between the legal and the illegal is so blurred we should now call this tax evoidance or avasion) is laid on the doorstep of the morality (or lack of it) the British taxpaying public.

A moral duty
Perhaps the politicians should look at bit closer to home and recognise that they - first and foremost - have a moral, legal and representative duty to the public to make the laws clear in the first place and not leave it to an individual's own moral judgment.

Even Moses came down Sinai with a set of tablets that in the main began with a clear message 'Thou shalt not.....' rather than 'It is considered morally repugnant to...'

If our elected representatives are incapable of implementing a set of clear legal rules, perhaps they should question their own morality in taking on the job in is the first place?


Autumn Statement
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement will take place tomorrow (Wednesday, December 5). Shout99 will be reporting up-to-date news and expert analysis on all aspects with affect freelancers and small businesses. Keep watching our Political News section.

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Susie Hughes Shout99 2012

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