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Man of the people versus The Man

That the state thought a jury would favour the taxman against Harry Redknapp shows just how deluded it is.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

Topics Politics

Harry Redknapp, England manager elect, has actually won something in football. The 2009 FA Cup, in fact. Still, it is fair to say that the most significant victory in Redknapp’s career has not come on the pitch. It arrived, rather, in Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday last week, when he was finally cleared of all charges of tax evasion. People 1, The Man 0.

Before the verdict, Redknapp was a quite-successful club manager, but nothing special in the grand scheme of football. But after his exoneration, Redknapp has been transformed. He has become a quasi-folk hero, a man who fought the law without letting it win, a walking, talking two-fingered salute to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). He has become, in short, something that very few of his predecessors have ever been: incredibly popular.

And that tells us something. It tells us that despite the contemporary obsession among certain commentators and activists with tax-dodgers and reining in the rich, all in the name of combating inequality, a lot of people do not think of the taxman as a force for good. As the London Evening Standard put it, perhaps through gritted teeth: ‘Redknapp is the working-class hero who stuck it to the taxman.’

Not that HMRC, aided and abetted by the City of London police, didn’t try to get ‘Arry banged up. In a five-year-long case that has cost millions and has featured dawn raids, office searches and perfunctory arrests, culminating in a ridiculous court trial, the state’s effort has been beyond doubt. But what inspired this effort? What fuelled a lengthy, high-profile dispute over £186,000 plonked in Monte Carlo bank account under the name of Redknapp’s dog, Rosie? Here we get to the petty, anti-consumption, anti-rich politics of the matter.

The ostensible seeds of Hunting Harry were sown in 2006, when allegations of corruption in football, made first by then Luton manager Mike Newell and then in a BBC Panorama documentary, prompted an official inquiry led by former Metropolitan Police Chief Lord Stevens alongside consultancy firm, Quest. The findings, while hardly earth-shattering, implicated Redknapp. Spotting an ace PR opportunity, the City of London Police then mounted a series of early-morning raids in November 2007, arresting Redknapp, former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, then Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie, agent Willie McKay and Charlton midfielder Amdy Faye. There was no mistaking the showpiece case here: the couple of hundred grand Redknapp had claimed as part of his fee for selling a player in 2002, which Mandaric had told him to put into an offshore account.

Given the millions that both Mandaric, a notable businessman, and Redknapp had paid in tax over the years, why, the defence argued, would they have gone to so much trouble over £40,000 worth of tax? This the prosecution were never able to answer. Redknapp, however, did have an explanation: ‘It’s because of who I was.’ There is an element of truth to this. Redknapp must have seemed a perfect target for HMRC, the police, and eventually the CPS to sling in the stocks.

They must have thought that there’s no way a jury would trust ’Onest ’Arry. For his has always been a persona rich in dodgy cockney caricature and dubious East End stereotype. He is not simply someone born in Poplar, who speaks with an East Larndon accent – ’Arry is a spiv, a wide boy, a likely lad, a wheeler dealer, a little bit woo, a little bit way – a man who, as reputation has it, ‘likes a deal’. He’s football’s Del Boy, a barrow boy in a Range Rover. And as such, a whiff of dodginess, not to mention the the Only Fools and Horses theme tune, clings to him.

But Redknapp himself is not the sole reason for the state’s attempt to make an example of him. More importantly, Redknapp is part of what broadsheet types describe as ‘the world of football’, an environment in which consumption is never less than conspicuous. And it was this bubble of wealth, manifest in big houses and bling, that was deemed unacceptable, perhaps more so than Redknapp’s supposed tax dodge. In short, the conspicuous consumption of ‘the football world’ sets a bad example. It suggests that it is not only okay, but desirable for people to aspire to the trappings of material wealth, to want lots of expensive stuff. And this at a time when, so we’re repeatedly being told, consumption and ‘greed’ – our material aspiration – is destroying the planet, society and the economy. For the state, the world of football needs bringing down to Earth. Even now, after Redknapp’s court victory, his own wealth is talked of with sneering disapproval, with one commentator feeling the need to mention his ‘£10 million, faux Tudor mansion’.

Added to the elite assault on the vulgar materialism of football, the pursuit of Redknapp has also been given impetus by the increasing contemporary obsession with taxation, and more specifically, tax evaders. To be clear, this has far less to do with any political struggle, no matter how limited, over the distribution of the social product, than it does with ensuring that the rich don’t feel that much richer than the rest of us. As ex-M&S chairman Stuart Rose explained last year in defence of keeping the upper rate of income tax: ‘How would I explain to my secretary that I am getting less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when hers is not going down?’ According to such Spirit Level logic, by taxing the rich, we will feel less bad about our own material impoverishment. Or, to use Occupese, better 100 per cent in the economic shit than just 99 per cent.

And that’s what lends Harry Redknapp’s post-trial popularity its importance. It doesn’t just show that football is not considered by the vast majority to be a wellspring of moral degeneracy and vulgar shopping habits. It also shows that the taxman is still not seen as a hero. He is not even a righteous figure, no matter how much the pseudo-progressives in organisations like UK Uncut might pretend he is. Rather, the tax collector is still shorthand for arbitrary state power, whose most famous embodiment, the Sheriff of Nottingham, stole from the poor to line the pockets of medieval officialdom. (That, by the way, is why the Robin Hood Tax, a tax on financial transactions, is a misnomer. One suspects calling it the Sheriff of Nottingham Tax would lack a certain appeal, though.)

With Redknapp’s victory and subsequent surge in popularity, the elite nature of both the anti-footballer crusade and the pro-tax collector brigade becomes clear. A word of warning, though, Redknapp fans. The last time a Londoner with an allegedly dubious business past took the job of England manager, he did rather well, taking his side to the semi-finals of European Championship in 1996. The FA and assorted soccerists were less keen. Terry Venables left the England job that same near-glorious summer.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

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Topics Politics

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