The HSBC tax dodge leak is from 2007, and so has nothing to do with the current government, sort of. Ministers have been defending the appointment of Stephen Green as trade minister. Green was boss at HSBC during the period that this leak relates to.
But given Labour is trying to increase the political temperature on tax avoidance at the moment, the Tories have also been quite keen this morning to suggest that Ed Balls has questions to answer on this story, to be broadcast on Panorama tonight. Earlier this morning Financial Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke released this statement:
‘It is for HSBC to explain what they did to ensure their clients complied with the tax law. But it for the City Minister in years up to 2007, Ed Balls, to make an urgent statement about what he knew about all this and why the then government allowed tax avoidance and evasion to take place on such a scale.’
He repeated this challenge in morning broadcast interviews, saying ‘there are questions to be answered by the likes of Ed Balls’.
This might remind you of something. Nearly three years ago, George Osborne made the same demand of Ed Balls over the (much bigger) Libor scandal. He told James Forsyth:
‘My opposite number was the City minister for part of this period and Gordon Brown’s right hand man for all of it. So he has questions to answer as well. That’s Ed Balls, by the way.’
Balls was furious, telling the Chamber that Osborne had ‘impugned my integrity in the Spectator’. Now it seems the Tories are quite keen to do the same with this tax avoidance story, stopping it from becoming part of a general wall of noise about Tory supporters and moving the focus on to Labour.