Margaret Thatcher breathed her last in a suite in the Ritz Hotel where she had been looked after 24/7 by a personal carer and nurses working shifts.
The tab for her stay was picked up by hotel owners Sir David and Frederick Barclay, also owners of Barclays Bank, the Daily Telegraph and the catalogue company Littlewoods.
The brothers were well able to afford this generosity. On December 17th last, an edition of Panorama, ‘The tax-haven twins’, traced the movements of Barclays’ money around European locations through loopholes designed to minimise tax liabilities.
The twins live in a castle on the Channel Island of Sark when they are not living in their villa in Monaco.
One of the attractions of Sark and Monaco is that the tiny jurisdictions are big into discretion when it comes to residents’ personal financial affairs.
We know a bit, though, about the affairs of some of their companies. Panorama ‘revealed’ - Private Eye and left-wing ‘papers had been banging on about the story for months - that the twins had paid nothing in corporation tax on the Ritz’s profits since taking the hotel over in 1995. Not a sausage.
But that was an exercise in civic duty when compared to the finesse with which their accountants handled the Littlewoods brief.
The Barclays acquired Littlewoods in 2002. Shortly thereafter, they sought and secured a VAT rebate plus interest totaling £472 million on payments dating back to 1973. For 29 of these years they hadn’t owned the company at all.
All of this was legal under arrangements mostly brought in - let’s be fair here - not by Mrs. Thatcher but by her spiritual and political heir, the notorious war-monger Tony Blair.
One of the results of such tax avoidance is the budgetary gap which the Tory/LibDem Coalition has been trying to bridge by cutting back on spending through, for example, forcing people with disabilities off benefits, shredding the funding of local authorities, sacking public-sector workers and forcing the closure of facilities for families in sore need of help.
These measures are passed on to the North by the Stormont administration. We can for the moment leave aside argument about whether the Executive is putting up a robust fight or routinely imposing the measures while voicing protest against them
One of the results is the threatened imminent closure of the Slievemore Nursing Unit in Galliagh, which cares for sufferers from the same distressing illness which afflicted Mrs. Thatcher in her last years, dementia. The residents are to be transferred either to non-specialist units or to ‘care in the community’ - which all too often means dumping them on families already stretched to the limit
The Slievemore relatives are striving to build a campaign to keep the unit open.
They need families in a similar position across the North to join them.
They need the trades unions, UK Uncut etc. to mount a serious campaign against Barclays-style avoidance tricks.
It would help if some of those who partied last week in celebration of the former PM’s death weighed in. Denouncing what Mrs. Thatcher did in the past is less important than opposing what Thatcherism is doing in the present.