My colleague, Mark Pack, has indicated an enthusiasm for the proposal for an independent Office for Tax Simplification. And yes, he and I would almost certainly agree that the tax system is now more complex than it has ever been. However, he perhaps misses the point as to why the system is as complex as it is. Luckily, I discussed that yesterday evening. So, why am I so unconvinced by the idea of an independent Office of Tax Simplification?
Firstly, Mark misses the point altogether when he discusses rewriting the tax code so that it is easier to understand. That isn't what the Conservatives are calling for, although any ideas for tax simplification might achieve that (I emphasise might).
Indeed, the Inland Revenue set up a Tax Law Rewrite Project in the dying days of the Major administration, which aimed to create a more accessible version of tax legislation. It was intended that the project would run for two years. Seven years later, they were still recruiting staff. Strangely, it turned out to be rather more difficult than expected, as the simpler you made the language, the less watertight it became - bad news if you want to discourage avoidance and the creation of loopholes.
I digress though and, returning to the Conservative proposals, if such a quango (they're bad, if Conservatives are to be believed, unaccountable, from a liberal perspective, and necessary for delivery, if you're a Labour supporter) was to be created, what power would it have? Enough power to overturn Government legislation? On what basis - administrative, cost, philosophical?
The whole point of being the Government is to change things to reflect your beliefs as to how an economy and a society is best run. Are Dave and George seriously saying that if a quango came along and said, "Interesting proposal, gentlemen. However, we think that it makes the tax system more complex and you shouldn't do it.", does anyone seriously believe that they would pay heed? And if they did, why is a non-elected, unaccountable quango being given an effective veto over the policy of a Government with a mandate?
This is yet another example of politicians holding their hands in the air and saying, "we're not good enough to do this ourselves" or, alternatively, "you can't trust us to do this", very much like the Fiscal Responsibility Bill that Labour have proposed. Ultimately, if politicians want to be respected, they have to have the guts to take decisions, defend them and execute them. That's why the rest of us vote for them, not to watch them hand over key decisions to faceless bureaucrats like myself, most of whom are rather better paid than politicians but with none of the risk of being turfed out.
I return to the noble Baroness Thatcher. Can you imagine her, or Nigel Lawson, placing such authority in an unelected body? No, me neither. On the other hand, perhaps it might be better with David Cameron and George Osborne...