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In 2012 Jimmy Carr’s financial arrangements hit the headlines in a big way after he was found to have funneled money through a Jersey based tax avoidance scheme.
Though legal, the revelations surrounding this arrangement gave the comedian very little to laugh about, especially as he’d previously lampooned bankers for similar moves.
Not wishing to miss a chance to flash his shiny face at the cameras, David Cameron was quick to leap into the fray, pouring flaming oil on troubled waters, describing such schemes as “dodgy” and “frankly morally wrong”. Of course we all agreed with him. Not just because he was our glorious leader, but because it was one of those rare occasions when he was on the right side of the argument.
Around the same time, pop singer Gary Barlow came in for some similarly blistering criticism from George Osborne – a man who knows a thing or two about dodgy tax arrangements. In his own take on the iniquities of creative accounting, he described aggressive tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”. Again, no argument from us George.
But this focus on morality was not mere wordplay. All these schemes, if somewhat ‘iffy’ were still legal. And they were legal because George and Dave had allowed them to continue as such through their tacit, and in some cases outright, support for one of the last remaining UK industries – the offshore tax haven.
So, unable to attack these schemes on grounds of legality, they lobbed judgmental hand grenades from the moral high ground, maybe in the hope that no one would notice that what they were actually standing on was a huge pile of personal tax shenanigans shoved under the magic carpet they’d both flown in on.
Whatever the case, they established their unequivocal position that deliberate, artificial tax avoidance, legal or otherwise, was ‘immoral’, and they were right.
So revelations this week about Cameron’s father’s tax haven scheme, and previous exposés surrounding the tax affairs of the hugely profitable Osborne family business, must stir similar opprobrium in the breasts of both men. Perhaps even a realisation that much of their own lifestyle has been financed, by their own standards, on the immoral earnings of their forebears.
All those old Etonian ties, the Oxford education, the dress suits they pompously paraded in for ludicrous Bullingdon club photoshoots, the country suppers, the half-hearted post-university careers, and eventually their party endorsements, may all have owed their existence, at least in part, to tainted money shuffled under the counter like some cut-price Del-boy selling smuggled cigarettes down the local boozer.
There can’t be any doubt about this can there? In 2013 Cameron said of tax avoidance “Let’s be clear about why this tax issue matters. I mean, if companies don’t properly pay their taxes, and individuals don’t properly pay their taxes, we all suffer as a result. So it’s important we do get our own house in order.”
Now I know that Cameron famously doesn’t know exactly how many houses he owns, but surely he can pop back to the old homestead and check under the mattress for any sacks of used banknotes. Lift a few floorboards maybe. Check behind the sideboard.
It’s bad form to speak ill of the dead but, at the very least, shouldn’t Cameron be denouncing the actions of his old man in the same way that he saw Jimmy Carr as fair game just a few short years ago?
Instead we hear stony silence, save for some carefully worded statements from Cameron on his personal tax affairs and claims that daddy’s allegedly dodgy deals were a “private matter”.
In Iceland the Prime Minister has at least had the moral backbone to resign. Not that he was given much choice. Yet here we see our PM keeping his head down, hiding behind mealy-mouthed claims of ignorance of his family’s fortunes. I’m tempted to call him pig-headed, but I wouldn’t want to re-direct attention to some of his less serious peccadilloes.
There was a time when stories like this would bring down an entire government. Back in the 60s some relatively tame dalliances with ladies of questionable morality were enough to see high ranking ministers slope off, head bowed and red-faced, to pen a resignation letter.
But now, self confessed immorality, that by their own admission does serious damage to the country’s economy, is given a free pass by those at the very top of our administration.
When are these politicians who talk so tough when it comes to the behaviour of others, going to turn that spotlight on themselves? Doesn’t real morality mean you have the strength of character to admit your own shortcomings and try to do something about them? Isn’t that strength of character supposed to be what an expensive private education buys you? Or perhaps that’s somewhat negated if the school uniform was partly financed by questionable means.
But if any of that does still count, I’m sure there are reparations that could be made. I know there are many charities that would welcome a windfall from Cameron’s seemingly tainted inheritance.
But perhaps, in the circumstances, an anonymous donation would be best.