Stephen Glover: The Guardian's coverage of tax is obsessive but not compulsive

If there are any young psychologists looking around for a subject for a PhD thesis, may I suggest a subject? It would be something along the lines of "Guilt, expiation or displacement at The Guardian".

Tax avoidance has become a crusade for the paper. Last week, it ran reams of articles about what it described as "the entirely legal tax-dodging" of Barclays Bank, and we will probably be treated to further episodes this week.

I have tried to get worked up by the story without much success. This is partly because it is fearfully complicated, and partly because, as The Guardian keeps reminding us, Barclays has not broken the law.

Much more interesting to me are the psychological explanations behind the paper's obsession. Last year, it accused Tesco of such practices, unfortunately getting its taxes in a serious muddle, and exaggerating the scale of the supermarket chain's alleged tax avoidance by a factor of at least 50. Despite its errors, the paper continued to berate Tesco for shirking its social duties.

Amazingly, The Guardian was forced to admit, though it did so as quietly as possible, that The Guardian Media Group (GMG) had also practised tax avoidance. In conjunction with Apax partners, GMG had incorporated a new company registered in the Cayman Islands as part of its joint acquisition of part of the publisher Emap. The purpose was to reduce the tax liabilities of employees and executives of Apax. It was entirely legal but as morally questionable, for those who abominate tax avoidance of any kind, as what Tesco and Barclays have done.

The Guardian defended itself by saying that it could not be held responsible for the actions of its parent company. This, if you think about it, is not an honest defence. The Guardian Media Group covers the losses of The Guardian from profitable investments in other publications. Far from being independent and self-standing, the paper is reliant on GMG for its survival, and therefore cannot respectably disassociate itself from GMG's dubious activities.

I suggest that the revelation of its own connection with tax avoidance was deeply embarrassing for the paper, and in particular its editor, Alan Rusbridger, who likes to give an impression of great virtue. His position was that of a teetotal preacher who had been discovered making whisky in his basement. What was fascinating was that he redoubled his exhortations against the evils of drink.

Here comes the nub of our thesis. One might argue that by inveighing against Barclays and other wicked tax avoiders Mr Rusbridger is atoning for GMG's own practices. Or, a little less charitably (and I am not sure the two theories necessarily conflict) one could suggest that The Guardian is involved in a massive displacement of its own moral shortcomings – that it can only forget its own past sins by dwelling hysterically on those of others.

Whatever the explanation, it amounts to an obsession that sometimes trembles on the edge of madness. As I say, the story about Barclays is very complicated, and the paper does not contend that the bank broke the law. Incidentally, leaked Barclays' documents, which were last week suppressed by a judge, can be easily found online. A banker friend of mine, who is an expert on tax, judges them utterly incomprehensible.

I accept this is a story of public interest, particularly since Barclays is hoping to get money off the Government. But a scandal? The good nature of readers is presumed upon, and their welfare abused, as a finger-waving Mr Rusbridger bellows from his soap box.

How does this Promethean Jenkins get it all written?

When a columnist reaches the age of 60 there are several alternatives. You can go on column-ising if your employers will let you. You can become a drunk. (These first two options can sometimes be combined.) Or you can take a job presiding over a benign national institution.

About a year ago Sir Simon Jenkins was appointed chairman of the National Trust.

It was announced that he was sacrificing his highly paid column on The Sunday Times so that, as he informed The Daily Telegraph, he could devote "two days a week and 24 hours a day to the trust".

The plan was for him to continue writing two columns a week for The Guardian, to which he defected from The Times a few years ago.

But writing only two columns a week did not work out for Sir Simon. Perhaps he grew bored. Or maybe he registered the loss of income. Whatever the reason, he has taken up his pen for the London Evening Standard, where he wrote a column some years ago, and so is once again a three-times-a-week man.

He also does the occasional book review for The Sunday Times, and eight days ago wrote an enormous piece for that paper about the beauties of Britain. He has just published a book on Wales. How does he do it? Will Hutton pumps out a fair amount of words from his perch at the Work Foundation, and Sir Max Hastings banged out a lot of articles when he was president of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, but both men are slackers in comparison with the Promethean Sir Simon Jenkins.

Will I be forgiven for wondering whether his column on The Guardian is quite as good as it used to be on The Times?

That paper sorely misses him.

Reporters sub-editing their own copy is nothing new

Some traditionalists will grumble about the latest piece of news to emanate from the Financial Times. Last Thursday, Lionel Barber, the paper's editor, announced that reporters will have partly to sub-edit their own stories by running their own style and spellchecks, and writing draft headlines.

Some will say that this is an example of an ignorant management disregarding precious subbing skills. And yet a friend of mine who joined the FT as a writer around 1960, when it was a small and sleepy paper, tells me he was expected to produce perfectly spelt copy to length, as well as a draft headline.

In other words, far from being revolutionary, Mr Barber's proposals reinstate the working practices of 50 years ago. Admittedly, the paper has grown more complex since then, and it may be that writers are less literate. But shouldn't they be encouraged to produce clean copy? It is a different matter on the tabloids, of course, where presentation is so much more important, but I don't see why FT reporters shouldn't lend a hand.

people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering