Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Question evasion and a tax blame game

Understandably Gauke tried to lay the blame on Labour

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Indy Politics

As a man who in 2011 won the coveted title of Tax Personality of the Year, Treasury Financial Secretary David Gauke no doubt has many qualities. But rigidly logical argument isn’t always one. Summoned to the Commons over the HSBC scandal, he was at pains to say what a “successful” minister Lord (Stephen) Green had been.

This may be true but it was also irrelevant, since shadow minister Shabana Mahmood’s question was more about Green’s previous job as the bank’s chairman; and how much the Government knew (or questioned Green before recruiting him ) about the leaks of secret dealings in HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary which by then had reached HMRC. On which Gauke was unforthcoming.

It didn’t stop there. Understandably Gauke tried to lay the blame on Labour. “There is no evidence to suggest [Green] was involved in or complicit with tax evasion activities,” he said. “If we are talking about complicity... what about the city minister [Ed Balls]?” But hang on. Since Green’s defence, as implied by Gauke, was that he didn’t know what was going on in the Swiss subsidiary of the bank he was reportedly paid £25m a year to chair, how was Balls expected to?

Which doesn’t completely negate Gauke’s general point. That the then Conservative opposition uttered not a squeak of protest over Labour’s notoriously light touch regulation of financial services – subsequently admitted in a Balls apology – doesn’t alter the fact that’s what it was.

So Balls may not have been too downcast that George Osborne was in Turkey, thus freeing him from an exchange which would have turned highly personal. In the reserves match, Ms Mahmood sensibly focused mainly on her charge that it would have been an “inexplicable and inexcusable abdication of responsibility” not to have done due diligence before Green’s appointment.

Gauke concentrated on the Coalition’s tax evasion curbs and banking reforms “The era of banking secrecy is over,” he proclaimed. Maybe so. But it was hard not to recall Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” – or the things “we don’t know we don’t know”.