David Cameron finds favour with rhetorical defence of finances
British prime minister’s words had a sympathetic audience in fellow Conservatives
David Cameron makes a statement to the House of Commons over his personal finances after it emerged he had profited from an offshore fund.
David Cameron was at his crowd-pleasing best at the dispatch box yesterday, halfway between Houdini and Laurence Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, as he defended his family’s history of tax avoidance.
One moment he was outraged over the slur on his father over the late Ian Cameron’s offshore investment fund, as revealed in the Panama Papers. Then he was humility itself, acknowledging he had handled the affair poorly.
Later, he was indignant again in defence of his mother’s right to give him £200,000 in a way that could avoid inheritance tax, a right he defended on behalf of mothers everywhere. And finally he was at his sardonic best, sneering at the hypocrisy of Labour, the Guardian and others for criticising tax-avoidance schemes while availing of them.
As so often, Cameron was fortunate in his opposition, as some Labour MPs and media commentators had been intemperate in their criticism of his tax affairs in previous days.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked some well-aimed questions and summed up eloquently why the public is angry about tax avoidance by the very rich. “We have gone through six years – yes, six years – of crushing austerity, with families lining up at food banks to feed their children, disabled people losing their benefits, elderly care cut and slashed and living standards going down. Much of that could have been avoided if our country had not been ripped off by the super-rich refusing to pay their taxes,” he said.
Shifty implicationsCorbyn had followed Cameron’s lead by releasing details of his tax returns but the information came after the debate began, allowing the prime minister to imply it was the Labour leader rather than himself who was being shifty.
It was all enough to unite Conservative MPs who believe in nothing more fervently than the virtue of inherited wealth and the iniquity of all attempts to tax it. None criticised the prime minister’s behaviour and even the formidable chairman of the treasury committee confined himself to chiding Cameron over his hypocrisy in criticising comedian Jimmy Carr in 2012 for availing of a legal tax-avoidance scheme.
After Cameron left the chamber, however, the true condition of Conservative unity was exposed when MPs debated the pro-EU booklet delivered to every household in Britain this week at taxpayers’ expense. Pro-Brexit backbenchers lined up to denounce the booklet as a “dodgy dossier”, an “abuse of public money” and an “insult to the electorate”.
Spiv anticsNigel Evans, a former Conservative vice-chairman who acts as an election observer around the world, said the mailshot would be shocking if it was issued by the government of Zimbabwe.
“If I witnessed in any of the countries that I go to the sort of spiv Robert Mugabe antics that I’ve seen by this government then I would condemn the conduct of that election as being not fair,” he said.
This was too much even for the unfailingly polite and usually unflappable Europe minister David Lidington, who was speaking on behalf of the government: “I think that when my right honourable friend reflects on what he’s just said and that the election campaigns in Zimbabwe in the recent past have involved the murder, maiming and intimidation of voters, he might recognise that what he’s just said was not his finest moment in the House.”