Letter 1

I am proud to be biased to the poor

I HAVE read John Boothman's unpleasant article about Attac (JEP, 24 May). I considered replying to the technical points he sought to make about taxation.

On reflection, though, I realised that there was little point. Chris Steel's competent and well reasoned arguments, based on sound analysis and an appreciation of theories of justice, economics and taxation, have been dismissed hysterically and abusively by Mr Boothman, and there is no reasoning to be had with someone who can make such comments.

Likewise, Mr Boothman would have it that Attac and the Tax Justice Network contribute nothing to the tax debate in Jersey. In the process he ignores the fact that Senator Le Sueur abandoned lookthrough taxation of business in Jersey precisely because I pointed out that this did not comply with the EU's requirements, and persuaded the likes of PricewaterhouseCoopers that I was right.

We have, in fact, contributed much to debate in Jersey.

In which case what is clear is that Mr Boothman is not engaged in a process of rational debate. In fact, on reading his article, I did feel rather like those who must have watched King Canute railing against the incoming tide on the shores of an island, knowing that his anger was vented in vain. And I fear that Mr Boothman's anger is of that sort precisely because he so clearly misunderstands the five people he chooses to malign.

None of us is driven by jealousy, or anger, or resentment. What he ignores are the facts.

The fact is that John Christensen worked for Oxfam and the Department for International Development before he worked for the States of Jersey. There was no resentment of his treatment in Jersey that led to his current stance; he simply rejected Jersey out of conviction.

The fact is that Jean Anderson has worked with the poor in South America, and Pat Lucas is committed to working with those whom Jersey society would wish to ignore.

Mr Boothman might malign us, but John Christensen and I shall, over the next few weeks, and at their invitation, have high-level discussions with the heads of taxation on the EU, OECD and IMF. We shall meet the World Bank and will stage a meeting for the UN. What this says is that we all, in our own ways, have a consistent and noted track record in arguing that tax systems have to help the poor and the developing world.

In ignoring these facts, and in offering abuse, John Boothman reminded me of another episode of rash judgment. When Bishop David Shepherd of Liverpool led the Church of England in producing its 'Faith in the City' report in 1985, members of the Conservative cabinet described it as Marxist because it built on the bishop's declared 'Bias to the Poor'.

It was not, of course, Marxist. It was mainstream Christian, but what the Conservative ministers involved could not comprehend then (like the Jersey establishment and Mr Boothman now) is that clear-headed, rational people can be 'biased to the poor'.

I'm proud to say that Attac and the Tax Justice Network are biased to the poor. But that does not make us anti-wealth. Hard won, well earned, honestly taxed wealth is a good thing. But wealth earned deceitfully, behind the veil of secrecy and with doubt persisting as to its legality (as is the case of much 'wealth' located in Jersey, or it would not be there) harms the poor and has even been condemned as unacceptable by Milton Friedman, the most noted right-wing economist, because it is bound to reduce the wellbeing of society as a whole.

It is for society as whole that we argue, not the interests of the rich and the elite. That is not motivated by jealousy, anger or resentment but by compassion, commitment and a desire to help those in need, in my own case based on a clear and unambiguous commitment to my Christian faith.

In the circumstances, the sentiments Mr Boothman projects on to us appear instead to be a mirror of those from which he seems to suffer: fear, possessiveness and greed.

A bias to the poor would liberate him from such concerns. He's always welcome to join us.

From Richard Murphy, director, Tax Research LLP. 2/6/06

150 Beresford Road, Ely, Cambridgeshire.