Boris Johnson and Ken LivingstoneA spat between London's mayoral candidate has kick-started a debate on whether the UK should follow the US and make politician's publish their tax returns for all to see.

Following an on-air argument between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, which saw each accuse the other of using complex corporate structures to avoid tax, the Chancellor George Osborne has waded in and said he was 'very happy' for the government to look at making politicians' tax arrangements more transparent.

Business secretary Vince Cable has already said he's happy to publish his own finances, although everyone is already well aware of his tax return misdemeanors – namely the £500 fine he incurred last October for failing to pay a £25,000 tax bill on time.


While no-one could argue with politician's being transparent about how they are paid and what money they claim – especially considering the cash-for-access and politician's expenses scandals – would it inhibit politicians from undertaking legal tax avoidance measures.

Every person in the UK has the right to arrange their personal finances in a way that means they pay the least amount of tax they can get away with – this is tax avoidance and completely legal.

The question is, when you take up a post, which means you work on behalf of the public, do you give up the right to arrange your financial affairs in the way that sees you pay out the least tax?

In the US, those seeking positions in high office publish their tax returns and in Sweden they go even further, with a system of open tax returns for everybody.

Here in the UK, making politicians publish their tax returns would be a huge cultural shift and there is a fear that they would be judged on their personal finances rather than on the important political issues that matter most.

What matters more than a politician's tax return is their policy on how they will tackle large-scale tax avoidance that strips UK plc of millions of pounds of tax each year.

Billionaire Sir Philip Green is thought to have avoided a personal tax bill of £300 million by making his Monaco-based wife the direct owner of his business Arcadia Group and paying dividend income to her – meaning no UK income tax was due.

And look at the £10 million Goldman Sachs tax bill that was waived out of the goodness of HM Revenue & Custom's heart.

How much money Ken and Boris are or aren't paying in the coffers is of insignificance when placed next to such mammoth tax avoidance of that practiced by Green and Goldmans.

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