A Perfect Storm
Now, most authors have agents who take from between 10 and 20% of their clients’ earnings as fees. And most authors aren't exactly rolling in money; the average income of a freelance author in Britain is around £7000. Paying back money legitimately claimed against tax would be crippling. Naturally, this wild rumour-mongering agitated a lot of people and led the Society of Authors to send out an email reassuring anxious authors that they almost certainly wouldn’t be liable to pay back thousand of pounds (or millions of pounds in the case of mega-bestsellers like J.K. Rowling).
The Sunday Times’ story was in fact nonsense, as the British tax authorities were quick to point out. And now the case has just been settled in Richard and Judy’s favour. They can claim their agent’s fees against tax because they are, after all, entertainers; it seems that it was a good thing that Richard imitated Ali G. on breakfast TV.
Which leaves me wondering what the scaremongering was all about. Was it the usual excessive fact-free speculation that our press is so fond of these days? Or was it something more sinister? The Sunday Times story suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, wanted to claw back tax from celebrities to help make up a vast deficit in his budget - celebrities are soft targets because they don’t want to make the kind of fuss that would let people know how much they earn. And Gordon Brown is not only in line to become Prime Minister when Tony Blair finally steps down, he’s also believed to be rather more left wing than Blair. Some people aren’t happy about that. Was the whole story whipped up to besmirch the Chancellor’s good name, and lose him the support of a constituency of high-profile, vocal, left-leaning creative types?
If it was, it has succeeded only in whipping up a small but perfect storm of comment. It looks like J.K. Rowling will be writing the introduction to Gordon Brown’s next book after all.