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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...