Director of the Adam Smith Institute Dr Eamonn Butler wrote an op-ed for Conservative Home about the difference between tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (illegal) and argued that Labour's recent hysteria over tax avoidance is just playing at politics:
At Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, Ed Miliband banged on (again) about tax avoidance. And in the Opposition Day Debate on the same subject, Ed Balls spelled out his party’s plans to ‘introduce tougher penalties for those who are caught avoiding tax’. Pardon? Did you say penalties? For what? Tax avoidance – organising your affairs, within the tax rules, such that you pay less tax – is perfectly legal (or at least, it should be…but read on). It is tax evasion – concealing or under-declaring your income or taxable assets so as to escape tax – that is, rightly, illegal.
However, in their werewolf greed (to use Marx’s colourful description of capitalists) to maximise the revenue of a government that now consumes nearly half the national income and then borrows still more, our politicians have deliberately conflated the two. Which allows them glibly to talk about ‘penalties’ for something that is perfectly legal, but which they don’t much like. Staying within the law, but structuring your affairs so as to pay less tax than you might otherwise do, is portrayed as no less reprehensible as criminally deceiving the tax authorities. We’re all in this together, after all, and the government needs the money. So now, thanks to this sleight-of-hand (of which George Osborne is just as guilty), penalties appropriate to the criminal activity are being subtly extended into the legal activity. Indeed, without any real debate on the subject, they have already been extended far beyond the Rule of Law.