How Boris calling Ken a “f***ing liar” will play out

by Atul Hatwal

Politics is an uptight profession. Displays of genuine emotion by our leaders chills the blood of advisers and apparatchiks. Control is lost, the roulette wheel is spinning and anything can happen next.

Even if there isn’t a total meltdown, loss of composure alone is a sign of political weakness and opens up a line of attack on temperament and suitability for office.

Reports of this morning’s nose-to-nose confrontation between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson will have initially sent the Tories into a tailspin. Labour tweeters duly piled on  immediately following the exchange to push the line that Livingstone had touched a raw nerve in Johnson, who was seriously rattled.

But emotion isn’t always bad. Sometimes, when a politician shows genuine feeling, it reflects authenticity rather than weakness.

Think Hilary Clinton’s teary performance at the diner in New Hampshire in the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination . The immediate assumption in the press pack following her appearance was that she had cracked under the pressure. She was weak.

The voters disagreed. For the electorate, she had just become human and following her victory in New Hampshire the race was prolonged for months.

Or John Prescott in the 2001 general election campaign. When that mulleted moron threw an egg at him, Prescott’s reaction was natural and understandable, he punched him.

I can clearly remember the unbridled panic that gripped the Labour side in the minutes and hours after the punch, as well as the glee among Tory campaigners at this turn of events. At bare minimum, the Tories felt this demonstrated JP’s unsuitability for office.

Wrong again. For the voters, John Prescott was behaving like a normal person – the type that polls constantly say people want to see more of in politics.

As with Prescott, the key to the denouement for this morning’s fracas will be the substance – was  Boris Johnson in the right?

If it turns out that Johnson’s company, Finland Station, is a personal financial vehicle to avoid tax, then he will take a hit. He will have been unnerved and team Livingstone will have found an effective line of attack that obscures some of their own more difficult questions on tax.

But, if the various fact check teams, who are looking at the veracity of claim and counter-claim, conclude that Finland Station is in fact a working company (for example with employees that are not related or married to Johnson) that has not been used to minimise Johnson’s income tax liability, then this will be seen as a moment of authentic humanity for Johnson. When he ceased being the posh clown, and showed some real passion.

Based on Boris Johnson’s unusually unequivocal accountant’s letter, it looks a lot like the latter.

If this becomes the accepted truth, then Ken Livingstone will have scored two spectacular own goals: – making Boris Johnson seem like a normal person responding to a smear, rather than a comic buffoon, and putting the candidates’ tax affairs back at the centre of the mayoral contest.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut

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9 Responses to “How Boris calling Ken a “f***ing liar” will play out”

  1. Matty says:

    Unbelievable that a pro-Labour website attacks its own side time after time especially in a campaign period. Of course, Boris’s accountant is going to defend him, he’s hardly independent is he.

  2. That letter is not a full and frank disclosure. The problem with citizen journalism is that the research is poor. (That’s you Mr Hatwal.)

    The truth is that Johnson deals with his money as far as we know in the same way as Livingstone. They both charge fees and collect it through a limited company. The accountants letter suggests that since Johnson has disposed of his shares in the company under discussion, that his fees from the Telegraph column are dealt with in some other way. A company with a £250K per annum revenue is not worth £921, or requires an explanation. If Boris’ only second income is from the Telegraph, then he has no avoidance strategies, he is deemed to have earned all his 2nd income; there is no virtue in not taking a dividend, the HMRC will tax him as if he was PAYE, like most of the rest of us, although we don’t earn over 1/3 million pounds.

    The only authenticity in Boris’ outburst is his anger that he’s being called to account on the politics of running London, being a floppy haired comedian isn’t enough anymore. He is rich, he campaigns for tax cuts for the rich (at the expense of pensioners), he taxes the less well off through transport fees, our air quality has turned to shit and the foreign plutocrats are making housing unaffordable. Boris wants to talk about Ken’s Tax, London needs to talk about its future. Boris isn’t angry that Ken legally reduces his tax liability; there’s something else there, and the electorate, as you say, will find it.

    We need a London government for all the people, although if given the opportunity, I’d vote to abolish the Mayoralty, it both juvenilises and over personalises politics. Only rock stars and comedians will win this in the future. I’d prefer a dedicated public servant with experience of civic management. Between Ken and Boris, I know who meets my needs better. It’s not someone who thinks £250K is chickenfeed.

    I also agree with Matty, a Labour supporting Blog shouldn’t be publishing tosh like this.

  3. John says:

    and Boris saying he wouldn’t cut safer neighbourhood Sergeants or police wasn’t lying

  4. Arieh Kovler says:

    Dave, you didn’t read the letter or didn’t understand it.

    1. Boris has said explicitly that his Telegraph income is paid directly to him as a self-employed income and not through a company. He said this weeks ago. This is the correct treatment for tax, and it would be taxed properly via Self-Assessment at the full rate. Perhaps Boris is lying about this, but nobody has suggested that (apart from you) or has any evidence to think so. This row is about the TV production company that Ken mentioned.

    2. The letter deals with this company, Finland Station, which appears to have been a real company that paid Boris a fee for TV work. That fee was probably also treated as self-employed income – again, this is probably the proper treatment unless anyone is suggesting that Boris was actually *employed* by the company.

    3. The company’s *assets* were £307, not £921. Boris’ share was a third of that, so about a hundred quid. could be cash at hand, could be an old laptop.

    The point is that it’s not tax avoidance – so Ken was either wrong or lying. Ken’s scheme, however, is tax avoidance and is doubtfully legal under electoral law.

    Maybe Boris’ disclosure isn’t full or frank, but has Ken Livingstone made anything approaching a disclosure of this detail? No.

  5. Dave Levy says:

    @Arieh Kovier, you’re right, I had missed the fact that he has stated that he receives the Telegraph money as self employed. I find this odd since the HMRC is pretty strict in requiring the self employed to account for their income through service companies in order to mitigate against the avoidance of NI payments.

    If the Telegraph money is paid direct, then the low asset value of the company is understandable.

    The problem with citizen journalism is the lack of research (that’s me that is!).

  6. Matt London says:

    Dave Levy says:
    April 4, 2012 at 8:58 am

    @Arieh Kovier, you’re right, I had missed the fact that he has stated that he receives the Telegraph money as self employed. I find this odd since the HMRC is pretty strict in requiring the self employed to account for their income through service companies in order to mitigate against the avoidance of NI payments.

    Well, I was self employed for years (tourist guide) and although the revenue wanted to be sure I fitted the self employed rules they put no pressure on me. My neighbour’s a self employed free lance journalist who doesn’t use a service company, too. But the important points are that (i) Ken was banging on until recently, effectively, about the use of service companies being evil tax evasion and then, well, well, we discover he’s got one too and (ii) he seems to think he can use untaxed cash in his own service company to pay political support workers in circumstances where this should have been declared to the electoral expenses people.

    finally I’ve seen him, twice, saying explicitly that “no-one pays tax on money they pay to people for work”. Where is he living? Does he think he can set his house cleaner’s pay against tax? His nanny’s? His plumber’s?

  7. swatntra says:

    Its up to every Labour member to ensure that their so called representatives don’t embarass them, and the Movement, by doing anythng untoward. That goes for the Blair the Multimillionaire and Ken the ComebackKid and even Ed the Unready.

  8. Anon E Mouse says:


    A website that challenges the unacceptable face of the modern Labour Party with honesty does more for the cause of Labour than a thousand smearing dishonest sites do.

    The Labour Party is a shambles: It’s legacy from government is one of massive debt, smearing people, mass immigration, bloodthirsty warmongering and rewarding the rich whilst punishing the poor.

    If the party activists and the PLP had their way then that hapless Ed Miliband wouldn’t be leader. I’ve followed politics all my life and have never seen a more unelectable individual in any party.

    And before you say Gordon Brown was worse, which he was, at least the party never elected him (or the country).

    If Labour started listening to the members they wouldn’t allow unacceptable candidates in the party let alone stand to represent them – Ken Livingston springs to mind. How on earth can an individual with such despicable views be allowed to stand for Labour?

    This article is where it’s at I’m afraid and by not criticising what is unacceptable and more importantly unelectable then Labour can flounder about in opposition…

  9. uglyfatbloke says:

    What are we coming to when a comrade can be attacked on a leftist site just because of a few dodgy tax-avoidance issues….being dishonest never harmed Blair or Brown did it?
    Next we’ll be hearing that Ed does not resonate with the electorate just becuase he is a rich chap from a privleiged background who has never had a proper job in his life…heaven forfend!
    If Bonkers Boris wins in London and if the Tories are n’t prepared to back up Mathieson etc. in Glasgow (but they will) maybe there will be a bit iof pressure to put a socialist at the top of the Labour party.

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