Diary: Government adviser urges the taxmen to overcharge us


One of David Cameron's most senior advisers has made a vain attempt to persuade tax officials to overcharge us all, on purpose, as a subtle way of making us happier about being taxed.

At first reading that may not make much sense, but the adviser in question runs Downing Street's "nudge unit", the people whose job it is to invent unusual and discreet ways to make us all change our behaviour. Some people think the unit is a hot house of sharp, innovative thinking whose combined brain power could save the government vast sums of money. Others suspect that it is a fount of silly gimmicks that appeal to the ad man in David Cameron.

Dr David Halpen, head of the Behavioural Insights Team (to give the nudge unit its correct name) who also used to be Tony Blair's chief strategy analyst, has observed that we hate it if the tax people come to us demanding money because they have made a mistake and undercharged us. Mistakes like that make people want to cheat on their next tax returns. But we love it if the Revenue gets it wrong, owns up, and we get a cheque through the post.

Therefore, HMRC should deliberately overcharge, and so that every taxpayer gets a nice title refund at the end of the year, Dr Halpern told a civil servants' conference this month. "When people get tax back from the HMRC, they feel great, so we're trying to persuade you guys that's what you should do," he urged. HMRC is not impressed. "We do not seek to collect more tax than is due from our customers," a spokesperson told the in-house Civil Service World.

Eric Joyce's victim is given further abuse

The fallout continues from that famous evening when the former Labour MP Eric Joyce came over all emotional and pugnacious in a subsidised Commons bar. The Tory MP for Pudsey, Stuart Andrew, met Joyce's flailing fist.

Mr Andrew is also openly gay – a fact which played no part in that evening's events but did not escape the attention of a troll called Nicholas Scales, who sent Mr Andrew an email, calling him a "mummy's boy" and worse. Scales pleaded guilty at Leeds magistrates court to sending a malicious communication and will be sentenced later.

Trees joins the garden set

Congratulations to Alexander Trees, an eminent vet, on joining the Lords this week. Lord Trees will sit as a crossbencher, as did Lord Flowers, until his death two years ago – unlike Lord Wood and Lord Plant, who are Labour, or Lord Garden, Lord Ashdown and Lord Oakeshott, who are Liberal Democrats.

Alderman in row almost loses title

Paul Bartlett, a former Tory councillor from Milton Keynes, has narrowly avoided scoring a first for that town. In recognition of his service on the council, he was awarded the honorary title of Alderman, which is normally for life. But after a blazing row with the landlady of the Duke of Wellington pub, and after he was locked out of an art gallery for alleged offensive behaviour, the council held a vote on whether to strip him of his title. It was defeated by 18 votes to 17, with 14 abstentions. "I feel vindicated," Alderman Bartlett told the Milton Keynes Citizen.

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