Andy McSmith's Diary: '£5bn' tax deal has more holes than Swiss cheese

Our man in Westminster

One of the most heartening promises we heard from George Osborne during his autumn statement a year ago was that he was going to recover billions of pounds from wealthy Brits who thought they could outwit the tax authorities by squirrelling their money in Swiss bank accounts. A “ground breaking” agreement ratified by the UK and Swiss parliaments came into force on 1 January 2013 and was expected to reap £330 million before the financial year that ended in April, more than £3 billion in the current year, and more than £5 billion over five years.

So, nine months after the agreement came into force, Labour's Catherine McKinnell asked how it was going. The written reply from the treasury minister, David Gauke, was alarmingly vague. “It is still too early to be certain how much the UK-Swiss tax Agreement will yield; but it is important to note this is money that without this ground-breaking agreement would largely remain untaxed,” he wrote.

Let us hope that is not his coded way of saying that something is amiss, because that would leave a very big hole in the Chancellor's calculations. “We warned two years ago that this deal had more holes than Swiss cheese. Now the Minister responsible for tax says he has no idea how much it will raise. If all this money does not materialise it will be a further blow to a deficit reduction plan,” Ms McKinnell said

The woman who hated Ralph

Ralph Miliband is under attack again, this time by Ann Carlton, who worked as a researcher at Labour Party headquarters throughout the 1960s, and before that endured an unhappy six months working for Ed Miliband's father. Writing in The Spectator, she portrays Ralph Miliband as a hard and unreasonable task master, who did want to listen to her negative opinions about life under communism, believing that the Soviet Union and its satellites were “heading towards a Marxist heaven: there might be teething problems, but things were better in East Germany than in Britain.”

In case this is mistaken for the views of a disgruntled Blairite, it should be noted that Ms Carlton's opinion of Tony Blair was scarcely any more complimentary. “From the start the Blairite organisation has been opaque - there has been a delight in secrecy, a flouting of conventions and an indefinable unpleasantness permeating the atmosphere within the party,” Carlton once wrote, predicting that Blair's popularity with voters was “slipping”. That was before he won the 2001 and 2007 general elections.

Jay talking

Sir Robert Jay, whose funky spectacles became famous during the Leveson Inquiry into the press, made a teasing comment during his appearance before a House of Lords committee. The Hon Mr Justice Jay - as he now is, since being made a High Court judge - let on that he was often “completely dissatisfied” by the evidence given to him as the inquiry's chief inquisitor, before adding “but that's another story.”

To whose evidence was he referring? Does he mean that somebody was holding back on the truth or even lying to the inquiry? “But that's another story,” is all Sir Robert added.

Electoral truths - on a ribcage

And on the subject of unanswered questions, Joe Twyman, from the YouGov polling company, has written an analysis for the Fabian Review which concludes that the next election will be dominated by the economy.

Some people evidently knew that already because, Mr Twyman claims: “At the Labour conference in Brighton I met someone who, it subsequently transpired, had even gone as far as having 'It's the Economy, Stupid' tattooed on her ribcage, albeit out of public view.”

Two questions hang in the air: who is she, and how did Mr Twyman find out about that hidden tattoo?

Inscrutable Chinese? Keep that in the bag

Launching his book, Chinese Whispers, Why Everything You Have Heard about China is Wrong, my colleague Ben Chu voiced an objection to the much-repeated cliché that the Chinese are 'inscrutable'. He even considered calling the book “The Scrutable Chinese”, but his wife Hattie objected. She thought the word sounded too much like 'scrotum'.

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