Treasury insiders have accused Margaret Hodge, the high-profile chairman of the parliamentary public accounts committee, of deterring multinational companies from coming to Britain.
A source said to be close to George Osborne briefed the BBC and Mail Online on Thursday about claims that senior ministers have been warned by businesses that the prospect of public humiliation in front of MPs and television cameras was making them think twice about where to invest. Hodge was singled out for particular criticism.
“Companies looking at Britain are being put off the idea of moving their headquarters here because they fear the level of public exposure for behaving perfectly legally. There is no doubt it is having an impact. We are trying to show we have one of the most competitive corporate tax regimes in the world, but the message is being sent out if you come here you will be exposed to this sort of criticism from Margaret Hodge and her committee,” the source said.
This is important. First, it shows the role of the Treasury in promoting the UK as a place which values the rule of law, something Hodge clearly opposes.
Second, it shows that the Treasury thinks that a committee whose job it is to examine Government budgets job should not be hauling in random businesses that are obeying the law as intended by Parliament (but not the Guardian, I should make clear; or Stemcor) in order to deliberately damage their reputations from behind the veil of Parliamentary Privilege.
Both actions are deeply subversive of democracy. Because if these matters were brought up in the House of Commons somebody might actually be able to reply to Margaret Hodge’s accusations of impropriety without her cutting them off.
And yes, in the interests of full disclosure I should make it clear that I do sometimes tell Margaret Hodge what she should say – because I am the voice of Civil Society