The Non-DomConservative Oligarchy
As the Chancellor’s family tax affairs come under scrutiny, Sam Bright argues that playboys and plutocrats are now the natural constituency of Boris Johnson’s party
Rewarding ‘hard working’ families has been a mantra of the Conservative Party for its last 12 years of rule. In an era of austerity, when public spending has been restrained, this notion has been deployed to justify limiting state support to only those who are ‘deserving’.
In October 2010, Chancellor George Osborne said that those with the “broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden” of the Government’s fiscal austerity. “We’re all in this together” was a slogan deployed by the Conservative Party during the election campaign earlier that year – promising that our collective health and prosperity would be ensured if we all paid our fair share.
The last few months, however, have dissected this myth – showing that, in reality, those with political and economic power do not play by the same rules as everyone else. In fact, it appears as though they are playing a different sport entirely.
Take the news this morning that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy – already thought to be richer than the Queen – has non-domiciled tax status, ensuring that she does not have to pay UK tax on income earned abroad.
A spokesperson for Murthy has claimed that her ‘non-dom’ status is derived from Murthy’s Indian citizenship – a claim debunked by tax expert Richard Murphy, who notes that “Domicile has nothing to do with a person’s nationality”.
“The first thing to note about non-domiciled status is that it is given to no-one if they do not apply for it,” he goes on to say, in a series of tweets. “In that case the implication in Murthy’s statement that she has to be treated as non-domiciled is simply wrong: she is only non-domiciled because she asked to be so.”
Former Conservative deputy chair Lord Michael Ashcroft, and Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere are both also famous exponents of non-dom tax rules – though the newspaper insists that Rothermere derives “zero tax advantage” from the arrangement
The case of Akshata Murthy is indicative of two trends among those who currently govern Britain: their ability to use power and influence to defy the rules followed by everyone else, and their subsequent manipulation of the truth in an attempt to absolve themselves of blame.
Conservative MPs and ministers – and seemingly their spouses – do not operate in the everyday economy. Their individual experiences are divorced from the nurses, bus drivers and teachers who they claim to represent.
Instead, those in power are firmly entrenched in the oligarch economy. Their knowledge and connections allow them to locate the income opportunities, and the loopholes, excluded to most ordinary people.
It was revealed last year that dozens of MPs had second jobs in the private sector, often earning more through these roles than through their day jobs. The Byline Intelligence Team calculated that, from 2015 to 2020, the highest earning MPs – those paid £6 million during this period – had seen child poverty rise on average by 20.4% in their constituencies.
As public anger has receded, however, proposals to curb the additional employment of MPs have been shelved.
Murthy herself holds shares in a firm that, until last week, maintained a presence in Moscow – despite the atrocities committed by Vladimir Putin’s regime in Ukraine. As revealed by Byline Times, Murthy has also invested in a firm linked to a Russian billionaire whose fortune was facilitated by a Kremlin insider. Sunak and Murthy have amassed a property portfolio worth more than £10 million – including a £1.5 million Georgian manor in Yorkshire, two properties in London and one in California.
This is common among the Conservative Party, with its backbenches populated by the property-owning elite. A quarter of Tory MPs earn money from private properties, many of whom still claim relief from the taxpayer for the homes they rent in London.
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And while ordinary people are forced to tighten their belts amid a cost of living crisis, the Tory top brass dances to the tune of the international aristocracy. Ben Elliot, chair of the Conservative Party, is the founder of the concierge service Quintessentially (from which he has now resigned), that offers its clients a pass into the upper reaches of British society.
Elliot, the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has been accused of acting as a middle man for wealthy donors seeking an audience with senior politicians, reports the Times. As in Murthy’s case, Quintessentially continued to operate an office in Russia until very recently.
These are the opulent waters in which Conservative MPs and ministers swim – actively facilitated by the fundraising structures of the party. The Conservatives have received more than £2 million in donations from wealthy Russians since Boris Johnson assumed charge of the party, and the country, in July 2019.
These donors include Lubov Chernukhin, a banker and the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, who has given £2.1 million to the Tories in recent years. The Sunday Times recently revealed her as one of several donors to have been granted access to Downing Street via a secret ‘advisory board’ – a little known collective of wealthy individuals granted exclusive access to power.
Indeed, an elite ‘Leader’s Group’ has existed in the Conservative Party for a number of years, which offers access to senior Cabinet ministers and grandees in exchange for annual dues of £50,000.
Chernukhin has also previously paid £160,000 for a tennis match with Johnson and £135,000 for a night out with his predecessor Theresa May, while fellow elite donor Alexander Temerko paid £90,000 for a bronze bust of former Prime Minister David Cameron.
Conservative ministers are firmly embedded within the international oligarchy – and are even seen as collector’s items by these wealthy benefactors. Lord David Brownlow, who funded Boris Johnson’s extravagant flat refurbishment, has a history of underwriting prime ministers, having donated £104,000 to Theresa May’s local party from 2016 to 2020.
For some, donating to the Conservative Party is a highly lucrative investment – with more than £3 billion in Government contracts awarded to party donors and associates during the pandemic, with every £10,000 donation converting to £100,000 in contracts.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson plans to make it easier for the oligarch class to sink its talons into British politics – proposing a new law that would make it easier for tax exiles and non-doms to fund political campaigns.
The ‘Partygate’ affair has demonstrated the contempt held by Johnson’s administration towards the laws and the moral standards governing the rest of the country.
Perhaps this is because those in power exist in a different economic and social stratosphere to most people. They are friends with playboys and plutocrats whose status and wealth breeds an air of impunity – a perception, grounded in lived reality, that they are above the law. These are the same values now embedded at the top of government, with our rulers drawn from, and beholden to, a lawless non-dom oligarchy.