It is now a month since I was promoted from the Department of Transport to be the new Paymaster General and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. That is, the minister in charge of HM Revenue and Customs and the development of tax policy.
It has proven to be a nearly vertical learning curve. I loved working at the Department of Transport, and was able to do a lot to support both the county and the UK as a whole. So it has been quite a change to put a wet towel round my head and move from the world of cycling and walking, the national and local road networks, road safety and sustainable transport to the world of VAT, national insurance, capital allowances and tax evasion and fraud.
No-one likes paying tax. But tax is mainly how we support our public services, and it has been at the centre of our government and history for hundreds of years. The Excise goes back at least to the early thirteenth century and the reign of King John. Parliaments started to be called as gatherings of taxpayers not long afterwards.
The English Civil War had many causes, but it was precipitated by King Charles 1's continuing lack of tax revenue. The loss of the American colonies was fuelled by popular discontent about "taxation without representation". The French revolution led to William Pitt's creation of the first--purely temporary!--Income Tax. And so it goes on.
Quite rightly, our constitution does not allow Ministers anywhere near individuals' tax details. But the challenge of keeping taxes as low as possible overall given national needs and the Government's spending priorities is crucial one. My great hero Edmund Burke was Paymaster General some 237 years ago, and tried to simplify the system massively. I hope I can do the same.