So now we know that the acme of moral repugnance is not the banker who trousers millions in bonuses, or the chief executive who gets rewarded for failure, or the tax exile who seeks to influence our political process, but a hard-working comedian who earns a lot of money because he's popular and whose accountant told him he could save himself a lot of money by taking part in a legal tax-avoidance scheme.
Jimmy Carr was forced to apologise for his tax affairs yesterday after David Cameron had questioned his moral rectitude. "I now realise I've made a terrible error of judgement," he announced through Twitter, adding that he will in future conduct his "financial affairs much more responsibly".
Ignoring the fact that you could say he has (or at least his accountant has) been acting, from a personal point of view, with a good deal of financial responsibility, I cringed a little when I read his response to the Prime Minister's dressing down. I am not sure it is up to Mr Cameron to act as moral arbitrator of people's personal affairs and I don't really see what Carr has to apologise for.
He hadn't acted illegally, and, in common with almost every rich person in Britain (some of whom Mr Cameron might number among his friends), he took advice – being a comedian and not a financial advisor – and was told that this was perfectly legitimate.
In the moral universe we'd all like to inhabit, of course he would pay his full whack of tax. No question. But we exist in a rather less perfect, more pragmatic world, a place where the rich make the rules, to the general benefit of themselves and those like them. All Britain's major corporations – like Barclays, for instance, the company derided by Carr in a routine he probably now wishes he'd never done – take advantage of schemes to ensure their tax liability is kept to a minimum. This is regarded as good practice by their shareholders.
And then there are well-appointed individuals with access to high-end financial advice. Given a tried-and-tested, completely legal way to save themselves money, of course most of them; or us; wouldn't demur.
Surely, the onus is on Mr Cameron and George Osborne, another man who has been voluble on the subject, to change the law, making it not just "very dodgy" (the PM's words) but in fact illegal. But you can't avoid the moral question, especially for a man like Carr, whose millions have been earned by puncturing pomposity, highlighting idiocy and exposing double standards.
The private lives and mores of some of our best-loved comics have often fallen short of the highest standards and that hasn't stopped us laughing at, and with, them. I dare say Carr is working on a routine about this imbroglio. That should shift a few DVDs to pay for his next tax bill.Reuse content