'Sticks and stones…' Jesse Norman, it’s your Loan Charge that breaks us ordinary families
Not for the first time, Treasury minister Jesse Norman has caused uproar by uttering a few totally unacceptable words inside parliament, writes Helen Stone, LCAG Volunteer.
Last time, it was when he sneeringly rebuked senior backbench MP David Davis for asking a question about the confirmed Loan Charge suicides. This time, it was when he effectively called all the thousands of ordinary families fighting the Loan Charge “political lobbyists”.
Question, claim and correction
Who would have thought that a few words in a committee room in Westminster during what is called a ‘Public’ Bill Committee of a Finance Bill, could attract so much anger from ordinary members of the public?
Yet that is exactly what happened when ex-Etonian Mr Norman, in a visibly pompous way, rebuffed Wes Streeting MP by claiming that MPs have been influenced by “concerted political lobbying of an extremely intense kind”.
Already facing huge anxiety over unpayable bills for tax that has never been legally proven to be due, many people and their families are aghast. Resorting to Twitter and YouTube, they each individually made clear, “I am not a lobbyist.”
So who am I, minister?
Well, I am one of these people. In my case I am a volunteer for the Loan Charge Action Group. I’m not even facing the Loan Charge, but my husband has been pushed to despair by HMRC’s bullying and what we perceive as its misconduct. In our case, this is through the so-called Accelerated Payment Notices that, in our society supposedly built on the rule of law, allow HMRC to decide people are guilty until proven innocent. APNs, like the 2019 Loan Charge, have led to suicides. These are actual deaths, not of any elite political lobbying organisation, but of everyday people, voters, members of the public. Ordinary folk just like you and me. So normal families have been bereaved due to what I see as state sponsored-persecution, without any offence having been committed.
For the avoidance of any doubt in Mr Norman’s mind, if he’s reading this, I am not a lobbyist. I am a wife, I am a daughter. I am a sister. And I’m a mother. My three children were toddlers when my husband entered a scheme which he thought would simplify our tax and financial affairs, and, ironically, to avoid the risk of a costly HMRC enquiry over IR35 compliance.
My children are all young adults now, having had their lives overshadowed for over ten years by HMRC's bullying pursuit of their father for eye-watering amounts of money -- money we never had, and therefore cannot pay back.
I work full-time as a counsellor and I know first-hand the damage to the mind that years of severe stress, uncertainty and anxiety wreaks on people. That feeling of being trapped and about to be financially-ruined; of being scapegoated and persecuted and with no recourse to justice. Being left without a voice can lead into depression and hopelessness, acute and chronic physical illness, and sometimes psychological disturbance sufficient for people to be at risk of entering into a suicidal mode.
Let me reiterate for the 'tin-eared'
The many other people also livid at Mr Norman’s mischaracterisation are also not ‘lobbyists.’ They are mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons.
So to set the record straight. The Loan Charge Action Group is a group of ordinary people and their families fighting against the draconian and unfair Loan Charge. The ‘LCAG’ does exactly ‘what it says on the tin.’ It was formed by everyday people and workers facing the Loan Charge who wanted to take action against it. The group started off representing those who face the Loan Charge. And it still does that today. Further unlike a political lobbying outfit, the only funding LCAG has is the money that each member has themselves thrown into the pot!
I’ll repeat this point again, for a minister who’s deservedly been called “tin-eared”. The only money which the Loan Charge Action Group has comes out of its members own pockets. And those members are ordinary members of the public. It would be nice if, as a government minister, you could get your facts straight, Mr Norman, Even, dare we suggest, put them on record, in light of the huge error you’ve made in calling us something that we’re not?
Political lobbying? Wrong, it's simply exercising our democratic rights
The feeling that the minister has wronged us LCAG members is extremely acute for me because, frankly, I didn’t even know what ‘lobbying’ was before I was accused of it by Mr Norman. What I do, with the other members of LCAG, is to exercise our democratic right to protest and to campaign. Like several thousand other people, I’ve been to see my own MP and exercised my democratic right to tell them about the harm that the Loan Charge is causing and, in my case, also about the equally unfair and dangerous APNs. We didn’t look like political lobbyists when we went to see our MPs; we are simply their constituents. It’s remarkable, and sad, that those exercising their democratic rights in this way are exactly those being mischaracterised by the Conservative politician as having a political agenda.
I’d like to ask Mr Norman. Did we look like ‘lobbyists’ when we came and peacefully protested outside Westminster? Did the families who gathered for the silent vigil for the Loan Charge suicide victims outside HMRC’s offices look like lobbyists? Does grieving widow Katie McLaughlin, whose husband killed himself facing the Loan Charge, look like a ‘lobbyist’?
What about your own constituent Mr Norman -- Ross-on-Wye pensioner Stephen Price, whose pleas you have ignored, despite him telling you that he has not been able to sleep properly for the last two years? Is he a lobbyist? And what about the daughter of one of the Loan Charge suicide victims; is she a ‘lobbyist’ too? She took to Twitter after your words at the committee meeting to state: “Jesse Norman, I am not a lobbyist. 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 HM Treasury & HMRC and stop any more Loan Charge Suicides”
To reflect our strength of feeling and in the interest of correcting the record, we made a special video for Mr Norman, with just a few of the faces representing the estimated 50,000 people facing the Loan Charge. The point of the video is to show that we are not ‘lobbyists;’ we’re just everyday people.
So no Mr Norman, this video and whatever else our members do does not make us ‘political lobbyists.’ We don’t do political lobbying. Our attempts to fight the Loan Charge constitute us exercising our democratic rights. In point of fact, ‘political lobbying’ is something that you will know far more about than us ordinary folk.
Those in glass houses...
Specifically, the minister likely knows plenty about lobbying where it involves people seeking to use their influence – and money – to affect policy. As exposed by Private Eye, one Richard Sharp who was hired to advise chancellor Rishi Sunak on the government’s economic response to Covid-19, is a major donor to the Conservative Party, donating a reported £400,000 between 2001 and 2010.
According to the Eye, Mr Sharp also donated £2,500 directly to Jesse Norman’s local party in the 2019 election campaign. Now, it turns out, Mr Richard Sharp was involved with Goldman Sachs’ past remuneration policy, which used offshore trusts and companies to pay bonuses since the 1990s “to avoid National Insurance bills.” HMRC, which is now hounding thousands of ordinary families to ruin and even suicide over the Loan Charge, then agreed a cushy ‘sweetheart’ deal with Goldman Sachs. At the time, this was looked at by the Treasury Select Committee. And guess who was a member? That’s right, none other than Jesse Norman. When it comes to buying influence, it is not us ordinary families who the finger should be pointed at, Mr Norman.
The more that we watch the minister in parliament (and we do, closely), the more we have come to a staggering conclusion: not only is he as errant as the awful ‘Misleader-of-the-House’ Mel Stride, but Mr Norman is actually worse. Mel Stride, in my view, was dishonest, cold and indifferent to the suicides. But Mr Norman is dishonest, indifferent to the suicides and also sneeringly, arrogantly dismissive to any criticism or even any scrutiny. Anyone who watched last year’s Lords Economic Affairs Committee session with the minister can see that. And perhaps Mr Streeting saw it too. Only last week, the Labour MP told the government -- represented at the time by Mr Norman -- that it "ought to be a bit more humble."
Misdirection, terror, injustice
‘A sneering ex-Eton schoolboy who too often seems to think he’s still in the playground.’ I’ve heard this sort of charge against the minister more than once now, inside LCAG and outside. Whatever misleadingly empty rhetoric he thinks can bat away the reality of the Loan Charge with, to misdirect more principled parliamentarians, Mr Norman cannot disguise the living nightmare that the Loan Charge is for so many people -- and their families. I know them. I am aware of other people who have still not told their spouse or partner, so terrified are they of the effects it will have on their partner’s mental health, their relationship and their children.
Since the committee debate, it has been pointed out that Jesse Norman is a vice-president of Herefordshire Mind, the mental health charity. This is an extraordinary appointment, considering the dismissive way in which he has treated confirmed suicides and the serious mental health crisis triggered by the Loan Charge. Some people I know have been so incensed that they have written to the charity asking them to disassociate from Mr Norman.
So, as ordinary citizens and law-abiding people, we will keep fighting against this tax and legislative injustice. In this case, against injustice and against the deliberate, cynical and wilful misinformation and misrepresentation that I feel Jesse Norman is making his trademark.
'Sticks and Stones...'
It may be a public schoolboy game to you, Mr Norman, but it’s our lives. For the seven families of known Loan Charge suicide victims, it’s already too late. So stop playing games, stop peddling HMRC propaganda, stop attacking ordinary people and if you can stretch yourself to a level which is more becoming of a minister than a schoolyard bully -- for your own decency, stop calling us names that we don’t deserve. ‘Sticks and Stones may break our bones…’ minister, but it’s your Loan Charge that really breaks us ordinary families.
So finally a plea. If you have any ounce of decency, Mr Norman, then at least use the power you have to prevent any more needless deaths. If you don’t, it won’t be ‘lobbyists’ losing their lives at the hands of this cruel policy and as a result of HMRC’s ruthless and out-of-control enforcement of it; it will be ordinary, hardworking people. Stop it while you can.