Snoddy: No effort is too great in the Mail’s property fixation

Snoddy: No effort is too great in the Mail’s property fixation
Photo credit: David Woolfall/Chris McAndrew/Wikimedia Commons/Adobe Stock

The Mail’s attack on Labour gets more bizarre by the day, from Keir Starmer’s residential history to Angela Rayner’s tax affairs.

Labour is maintaining a lead of around 20 points in the polls and political expert Sir John Curtice is predicting a 99% chance of a Labour government before the year is out.

So what are the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday doing in the face of what, for them, must be very unwelcome prospects?

Naturally, they are doubling down and attacking Labour leaders with increasing — and sometimes bizarre — vigour.

No effort is too great to try to prove that Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner — nearly a decade ago, before she became an MP — may have avoided £3,500 in capital gains tax on the sale of a house.

Day after day, page after page, the coverage goes on, reminiscent of the failed attacks on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to prove he had broken Covid-19 lockdown rules with a takeaway curry and a beer.

Champagne socialist

Yet, even by the standards of The Mail on Sunday, the “investigation “ into the domestic property dealings of Starmer this week was startling.

It went to enormous efforts to uncover “Starmer’s property ladder”, complete with pictures of every dwelling he had ever lived in from birth to the four-bedroom terraced house in “Guardianista Camden”, where he has lived with his family for the past 20 years. It was bought for £650,000 in 2004 and is now worth £1.93m.

The Mail on Sunday helpfully points out that the house is a mere 10 minutes’ cycle ride from the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate.

And, after university, the young lawyer had rented a flat several floors above a massage parlour, whose owner was later jailed for living off immoral earnings.

Difficult to know whether this is voyeurism, an almost comic attempt to smear by association with brothels and Marx or a suggestion that Sir Keir is a champagne socialist because his house is worth nearly £2m.

A tale of two houses

For the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, Rayner is the big one and the papers clearly scent blood.

The tale of the missing capital gains tax — perhaps — began with an exposure by Lord Ashcroft in the book Red Queen?.

As many have pointed out, there is a great disparity between the disputed £3,500 and the odd £100m in tax his lordship saved with use of — and soon to be abolished — non-dom status.

At its heart, it is a simple tale of two houses. Rayner sold a former council house and made £48,000 profit that could perhaps have triggered the £3,500 in tax if it was a second home.

The allegation — which The Mail on Sunday has made prodigious effort to prove, backed by comments from neighbours — was that her true home was elsewhere with her husband at the time. The former council house was therefore a second home and liable to capital gains tax when sold. There was also the matter of whether she was registered to vote at the correct address.

On Sunday, the Mail, after studying 30 of Rayner’s social media posts, accused her of lying and suggested she could face a criminal charge as a result.

By Monday, the Mail was accusing Starmer and Rayner of breaking their pledge to uphold standards in public life — although the accusation came from Conservative chairman Richard Holden. Richard Littlejohn commented: “What this story really shows is the hypocrisy at the rotten heart of Starmer’s Labour.”

Another two pages on Monday claimed that two-thirds of voters believe the tax advice Rayner received on her property dealings should be published.

Stephen Pollard accused her of “a sordid and sustained attempt to put one over on the British public”.

Shoot the fox

The problem with the Mail’s attack is that it could all be based on a canard, laced with a heavy dose of political malice.

According to tax consultant Dan Neidle, it’s a very complicated area of the law “and it’s therefore hard to blame Ms Rayner for misunderstanding the rules”. If indeed there was a misunderstanding.

To a certain extent, people can elect what is their home for tax purposes. Much more importantly, accidentally paying the wrong amount of tax is not a crime.

The key issue was whether Rayner had cooperated with HM Revenue & Customs and there was no evidence she had not.

Yet, given the row that the Daily Mail has fanned into life, it would surely be wise for Sir Keir to shoot the Mail’s fox by publishing the tax advice Rayner received.

It is strange that he has not read that advice.

If Rayner has deliberately, or accidentally, got her tax position wrong, it would be far better to acknowledge that reality as quickly as possible and move on.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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