LCAG contractors take to YouTube to rebut Jesse Norman’s ‘shameful’ characterisation
The individual members of a group lobbying against Loan Charge 2019 have taken to YouTube to prove that they are just people from “normal families”, not a team of political lobbyists.
The online move follows Treasury minister Jesse Norman characterising members of the Loan Charge Action Group as responsible for a great deal of “concerted political lobbying.”
Entitled "I am LCAG," the video notes say: “[Mr] Norman has shamefully portrayed LCAG members as professional lobbyists in attempt to discredit them”.
'We should take this APPG with a pinch of salt'
But the minister has also taken aim at his fellow MPs, as many of his colleagues concerned about the charge have joined the Loan Charge APPG, the secretariat of which is LCAG.
“Colleagues’ input is always valuable, but we should take this one [this all-party parliamentary group], with a little pinch of salt,” Mr Norman said on Thursday, justifying:
“It is the product of an enormous amount of concerted political lobbying of an extremely intense kind [from LCAG].”
'Minister has done a real disservice'
More damningly, the minister added: “It does not exercise what I would consider the kind of independent judgment that we would want an all-party parliamentary group to exercise.”
Sounding close to disgusted, and also at last week’s Finance Bill Committee meeting was Labour MP Wes Streeting
The shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury said: "The minister has done a real disservice to members on both sides of the House…by suggesting that the all-party parliamentary group is not independent and does not exercise independent judgment.”
'Found the government banged to rights'
Led by respected politicians like Sir Ed Davey and Mike Penning, the group is backed by over 200 MPs, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Mr Norman’s own party, pointed out Mr Streeting, who added:
“The minister would have more of a leg to stand on in robustly criticising the all-party parliamentary group or the Loan Charge Action Group if they had not found the government banged to rights.”
The Labour politician went on to assert that it is “embarrassing” for the government and HMRC that despite their “nothing to see here” claims about Loan Charge 2019 in advance of his review, Sir Amyas Morse disagreed.
'Ought to be a bit more humble'
“The government and HMRC were found not to have their affairs properly in order in relation to the application of the loan charge and the way the policy has panned out,” Mr Streeting reminded. “The government ought to be a bit more humble about some of those issues.”
Mr Norman did then seem to backtrack, at least on his charges against LCAG and the Loan Charge APPG. “I am not suggesting for a second that the APPG’s members are in any sense dependent.”
“Let me put that on the record. There is no impeachment or attempt of any such kind from me in relation to individual members of parliament.
“I was making a different point, which is that the APPG itself has come under an enormous body of concentrated and often extremely forceful pressure from people affected by the measure.”
He added: “There is therefore a contrast between their position and the position of Sir Amyas Morse, who is able to take a view that is independent in the sense that it is not aggressively constrained by one side or the other”.
The minister’s ‘whiter than white’ characterisation of the government’s hand in the Morse Review is unfortunately timed.
It coincides with the release of official documents showing the terms upon which Sir Amyas was asked by HM Treasury to abide by, and the opinions of HMT he was given as a foundation stone.
In fact, the telephone script which HMT provided for its official to use when telephoning Sir Amyas to invite him to conduct the December 2019 review shows that Sir Amyas was explicitly briefed -- the “avoidance activity is clearly wrong.”
'Sir Amyas must understand the wider politics'
As reviewer of the Loan Charge, he would need to ‘balance competing objectives’ and “understand the wider politics”, the HMT phone script reveals the official said.
The wider FoI release also catches the chancellor's press secretary Olaf Henricson-Bell, telling the Morse Review team secretariat "You owe us beers," in response to him agreeing to further a request for a "highly experienced media/PR adviser." (See page 8).
But concerning Sir Amyas personally, the former NAO boss was told by the official that he would need to run a “very speedy review” and, in line with Mr Norman’s stance and comments on Thursday about both LCAG and the APPG, should be aware:
“Those lobbying against the charge feel very strongly about the issue and will do their best to persuade that the charge is unfair, unreasonable and punitive.”
Taxpayers who have formed the Loan Charge Settlement Group (LCSG) reflected: “Jesse Norman… claimed again [on Thursday] that Sir Amyas Morse’s Loan Charge review was ‘independent.’
“[But] this FoI response lays bare the reality. [The Morse Review was] a coordinated and tightly-controlled exercise with HMRC pulling all the strings.”
According to its website, members of LCSG include members of LCAG, who at the weekend used social media other than YouTube in their attempts to set the minister straight.
“I am not a lobbyist,” tweeted one, directly messaging Mr Norman.
“I am fighting against the very wrong loan charge as the daughter of a suicide victim. I want to help stop innocent victims suffering at the hands of HMT; HMRC and stop any more Loan Charge suicides.”
'No case to move Sep 30th deadline'
“Lobbyist?” asked another Twitter user, taking issue with the minister’s comments. “Call it what you like Jesse Norman.
“I call doing what is considered legally and morally necessary to avoid bankruptcy, keep the roof over the heads of my family, keep my marriage and ward off my mental breakdown being a 'survivalist.'”
Elsewhere in his comments, Mr Norman said the September 30th 2020 deadline to make an election to spread the loan charge over three years (as the Morse Review recommended) was still in place, in light of “no overwhelming case at the moment for moving it.”