It’s a gift to a stand up when there’s a big news story that has recognisable characters and nice, simple facts that everyone can get a grasp on. And this week, Jimmy Carr’s tax arrangements – he has millions stacked in an offshore account – have been branded ‘repugnant’ by the Prime Minister.
‘I hate to see a fellow comedian brought low by his tax affairs,’ I told my audience last night. ‘Jimmy Carr is like a Ken Dodd for our times.’ And more, much more, in that vein.
For me, and possibly others, the problem was not the tax avoidance, but the Ten o’clock Live sketch in which Carr took a swipe at Barclays for offering an arrangement similar to the one he was enjoying. We don’t expect comedians to be whiter than white, but unlike actors, we expect them to chime with the sentiments expressed in a satirical sketch, even if they didn’t write every word themselves. This is potentially Jimmy Carr’s Angus Deayton moment. Satire shouldn’t be on the side of the Establishment, it should be with the little people. So it hurts more when the satirist decides that taxes are for the little people and not for him. If Jimmy Carr were a politician, I doubt he’d have had the supportive tweets and letters in the Metro I read this morning. Traditionally at this point I’d work out how much tax the guy avoided, and work out how many policemen, teachers or nurses it could’ve paid for. If he were an MP I’d work it out in duck houses; as its Jimmy Carr, I can work it out in corporate appearances. Oh come on, how easy should one go on the host of Channel Four’s ‘Comedy Roast’?
The British love a martyr, and if this is indeed an ‘Angus Deayton moment’ we should remember that Angus Deayton still works – a lot – and pulls down an annual income that most of us would be very happy with. If I were Jimmy Carr, I’d sit it out. As he hasn’t done anything illegal, the worst
punishment he will get is a thorough piss-taking, and the faster and more thorough it is, the quicker we will move onto the next story. He’s surely not the only one to get up to this sort of thing, and over the next week, will probably find some strength in numbers. If he can avoid being the poster boy for tax avoidance, he can certainly weather this storm. It’s a shame that Gary Barlow OBE hasn’t written a hypocritical song about the joy of paying taxes (in a riposte to George Harrison, maybe) but there’s something about him getting a gong and a green room while the people who actually paid for the Jubilee celebrations got to stand out in the rain that rankles.
David Cameron, on the other hand, really does have a problem. Who is the Prime Minister to discuss an individual’s tax affairs? Last week, Cameron would’ve had nothing but praise for Carr’s work ethic and contributions to good causes (I wonder if they were gift aided?) but one wonky headline has changed his tune. It’s hard to take a lecture on morality from the man who sat on a police horse loaned from Rebekah Brookes. It’s no good the PM wailing that something must be done: don’t tell me, Dave, tell your Chancellor. There is a difference between avoiding tax by putting a few quid in an ISA, and running your income through a Jersey company that ‘loans’ you the money back with no expectation of repayment, but ask ten people where the line is, and you’ll get ten different answers. If it is within the rules, your rules, what is your complaint?
Jimmy Carr makes us laugh, and will make us laugh again. He’s right, this is a bad call. Mea culpa. We will move on, and his taxes will become a self deprecating joke he might still be making after others have dropped it. Already the pendulum is swinging back: who wants to pay tax that they don’t have to? Good on you Jimmy, if I could afford your accountant… And so forth. Meanwhile, David Cameron is gathering anecdotes of bad judgement about him like Imelda Marcos collected shoes.
My parting shot: Jimmy Carr has just made a significant contribution to the Inland Revenue. He’s filled up his Bentley’s petrol tank.