Death & Taxes

If April is indeed the cruellest month, it is surely because we are faced with the burden of filling in a tax return for the financial year just ended, a grim task if ever there was one.  I have some sympathy for the Chancellor et ux, who seem to have fallen foul of the complexities of the system.  I myself have dual citizenship and “non-dom” status, though, as it happens I am non-dom not in the UK – where I am dom – but in New Zealand where, at the moment, I am only occasionally dom.  I have some savings accounts in NZ, and some years back I wrote to the Inland Revenue in NZ to enquire whether I was obliged to pay them any tax, other than a small sum designated “resident withholding tax”.  My letter must have been lost in the bureaucratic morass and I never received a reply.  So I did some independent research and satisfied myself that I was only obliged to pay tax on my worldwide earnings in the place where I lived.  “Worldwide earnings” sounds rather grandiose but be assured I am not operating in Mrs Sunak’s ballpark.

I can see the rationale behind my paying nearly all my tax in the UK where, after all, I benefit from all the public services of the community.  I can also see an argument for my paying tax on my NZ earnings, in NZ.  After all, that wealth is being generated in NZ.  Should not NZ therefore benefit?  For ought I know, Akshata Murthy might put forward a similar argument for India. 

Either way, the attack on Mr Sunak seems to me to be something of a confection.  What business is it of his, or anybody else, if his wife chooses to give succour to the subcontinent?  And what business is it of ours if he had chosen to hold on to his US green card?  That the Labour opposition should choose to criticise the Chancellor for his alleged disloyalty to the UK, his lack of judgment and “transparency”, is of course predictable.  But the opposition has proven itself extraordinarily inept at punishing the government.  All these open goal mouths – partygate, PPE contracts for cronies, Grenfell Tower, massive tailbacks of lorries full of rotting meat at Dover, a Ukrainian refugee “policy” mired in bureaucratic obfuscation, and now the scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, and they can’t seem to put the ball in the back of the net.    

Talking of green cards, a friend mentioned to me the other day that Gérard Depardieu, star, opposite Andie MacDowell, of Peter Weir’s film Green Card, not only holds the equivalent documentation in Russia, but has been a Russian citizen since 2013.  Allegedly he took Russian citizenship – an honour conferred upon him, at a special dinner, by Mr Putin himself – in order to avoid punitive French taxes. 

Green Card is a favourite film of mine.  In it, Depardieu’s character Georges Fauré and MacDowell’s character Brontë Parrish enter a marriage of convenience, he to attain a green card, and she to satisfy the requirements for ownership of her Manhattan apartment.  They go through the necessary procedure and go their separate ways.  Of course they meet again by chance.  She is dining with friends in a classy New York restaurant, and he happens to be the waiter.  One of the party asks for the vegetarian option, and Depardieu says, “Why?”

Inevitably, the Immigration and Naturalization Services catch up with them and subject them to an interview to see if their marriage is legitimate.  The interview is excruciating, and hilarious.   

Later Brontë is dining with friends in a very upmarket Manhattan apartment.  After the meal, one of the party plays Chopin on a magnificent Steinway grand piano.  Depardieu calls unexpectedly.  As he is a musician and composer, he is invited to play.  He sits at the piano, in silence, for a long time.  And then he subjects the party to a cacophony of atonality, fortissimo.  He finishes and says, “It’s not Mozart.”  The lady of the house replies, “I know.”  But then, just when you think Depardieu’s character as a musician is fake, he extemporises contemplative music of great beauty, and launches, in exquisite French, into a heart-breaking appeal for a charitable organization, which the lady of the house translates in real time, with tears in her eyes.

But to return to Rishi, I don’t think this current storm-in-a-teacup will do him much political damage.  All he needs to do is take a leaf out of his next door neighbour’s playbook, and ignore it.  Meanwhile that same next-door neighbour’s reputation currently seems to be riding high.  Boris’ unexpected visit to Kyiv seems to have gone down well.  And President Zelenskyy seems to like him. 

Meanwhile Mr Putin has appointed one General Alexander Dvornikov to lead the impending offensive in the Donbas region.  As General Dvornikov previously fought in Chechnya, and led the Russian forces in Syria, this bodes ill for what is now to come.  Is it not appalling that two Christian countries should be at war in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday?  Gérard Depardieu, reportedly a buddy of Mr Putin, has stated, “I am against this fratricidal war.  Stop the weapons and negotiate.”  The Archbishop of Canterbury was on Question Time on Thursday evening and, from the perspective of one who had consecrated a mass grave in the Sudan, he made the observation that the horrors of war will not end until the war ends, that is, until the opposing sides negotiate, no matter how unpalatable that may be.  Naturally, another panel member dismissed this as naïve, but I note that even President Zelenskyy himself is willing to talk to Mr Putin, for the sake of peace in Ukraine. 

But how has it come to this?  On Sunday evening, I watched Thatcher and Reagan: A Very Special Relationship (BBC 2, 9.00 pm).  All of a sudden, in the 1980s, the west found itself able to “do business” with The General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev.  President Regan wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons; Mrs Thatcher didn’t.  She believed in the ancient doctrine of the Balance of Power.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall she opposed the reunification of Germany precisely because the balance would be upset.  In 1986, Reagan held a summit with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, but the stumbling block to real progress in bilateral disarmament was the Strategic Defence Initiative or “Star Wars Program”.  Mrs T also opposed Star Wars, because – aside from the fact that she didn’t think it would work – it would render the US unassailable, while the USSR would remain vulnerable.  Once again the Balance of Power would be upset.

But even in 1986 nobody was to know that the USSR was about to collapse.  Then we had thirty years to make the world a safer place.  And now look what’s happened.  This is not the return of the Cold War.  This war is already hot.

So what to do, as we hold our breath between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday?  Personally I will listen to Bach’s St Matthew Passion.  Then on Good Friday, we snuff out a candle.  Tenebrae.                            

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