It has now been just over a week since the Panamanian Law Firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co revelations, the 11.8 million documents have begun to shine light on the murky world of offshore tax havens. Little did we know at the time just how much of an impact those documents could have?
In Iceland, we have seen how sustained pressure and public outcry were enough to force the Prime Minister there to step down. Here it is the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, which is making sure that David Cameron comes clean on his tax affairs and is honest with the country about any financial benefit that he has derived from his father’s offshore fund.
It is galling that a Prime Minister who has extolled the virtues of tax transparency, called for greater international cooperation on tackling aggressive offshore tax avoidance and labelled sophisticated tax arrangements designed to mitigate tax liability as “morally wrong”, yet he has personally benefited from shares in a fund designed to deliberately avoid paying tax in the UK.
Nobody is surprised by the apparent hypocrisy of Cameron or the fact that Cameron is from wealthy stock nor are people particularly concerned by the fact that his father Ian Cameron had set up the offshore account with its sole purpose of avoiding paying tax at the ordinary UK rate. What is disappointing is the fact that Cameron wriggled around like a guilty defendant giving evidence in a summary trial dodging and weaving in the hope that he would pull the wool enough for the Tribunal to be satisfied that they’re not quite sure enough to convict.
It took five days and five statements consisting of half-truths from No.10 before Cameron finally had wrung out of him the fact that he owned shares in Blairmoore Holdings. So why did Cameron think it necessary to deliberately deceive the country? Cameron has undermined confidence in the office of Prime Minister.
The public will rightly be aggrieved with how little Cameron thinks of them. Rather than just being up front with us, he hoped to evade scrutiny through misdirection and half-truths. This is entirely typical of a Prime Minister who has regularly misled voters on his policy intentions.
It has taken outcry for the Prime Minister to publish his tax returns, something he said he would do at the beginning of the last parliament and yesterday George Osborne followed suit. We must understand though that if either Cameron or Osborne (or for that matter anybody else) were using sophisticated tax avoidance schemes these would not show up on a HMRC tax return. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was dragged to the House of Commons through pressure from Labour to outline any plans to clamp down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance but Labour has had to drag him, squirming all the way. Tomorrow, Labour will again force the Government to answer to the country on the issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion in our opposition day debate.
Those Tory MP’s trotted out to loyally defend Cameron over last weekend and again yesterday and no doubt again tomorrow, need to think carefully about what the vast majority of the country make of this self serving, sorry mess.
Of course it is true that Cameron, nor his deceased father, have done anything illegal but when a Prime Minister paints tax avoidance and tax evasion as a moral issue, it is surely right that we expect him to lead the way, to set an example for others to follow. Instead we have a Prime Minister who has lobbied the European Union against transparency of ownership of funds so we shouldn’t be surprised by his antecedence here.
Voters who are following this story might wonder why Cameron is so willing to intervene on behalf of his rich chums by writing to Jean-Claude Juncker, but not on behalf of struggling steel workers who face an uncertain future. This, I think, shows the nub of the issue. We have a Conservative Party that stands up for the privileged few, protecting their interests. One rule for those at the top, and another for everybody else.
Incidentally it was a Conservative Chancellor, born in the University area of my home city of Hull, at 1 Elm Terrace, Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, who devised the plans for PAYE. He recognised the importance of paying tax and wanted to find a simpler, fairer way of paying contributions as you earn. He would surely have denounced the efforts of the global elite and multinationals and their attempts to avoid and evade paying their fair share.
The vast majority of the people that live in Hull will not have the benefit of mitigating their tax liability by so called ‘offshoring’ to avoid paying their fair share, but I don’t suppose for a second that they would want to do so. People understand the value of paying in to the pot so that public services such as the NHS are available at the time when we need it.
When asked in a recent Ipsos MORI survey the majority polled said they would pay more if the monies went straight to the NHS. This shows the strength of feeling at having strong public services which are well funded.
We must remember that tax evasion and avoidance is not victimless. HMRC’s own figures put the tax gap at £34 billion. Why does this matter? Because it is hard working families that have faced belt tightening and biting austerity cuts in their communities. Because it is schools, the police and local councils that have had to make savings and cut frontline services since 2010.
In the last week, Mr. Cameron has demeaned the office that he holds. He has again undermined trust in politics and politicians and given tacit support to tax avoiders. Cameron’s defenders will say that he hasn’t done anything wrong and that he has paid the tax that was due but we must remember it was he who made a moral issue of perfectly legal tax avoidance schemes when he attacked Jimmy Carr. People will wonder why it took a week’s worth of statements and half-truths to get to where we are now.
So why did Cameron think it necessary to try to hoodwink the country? The answer is that Cameron knows the biggest lie of all is the mantra pedaled by the Tories that ‘we are all in it together’. We are not ‘all in it together’ and Cameron knows it.
Most people get up each morning, go to work and work really hard to provide for their family. They willingly pay tax at the end of the working week or month. These people are the hard working tax paying majority. These people are the individuals holding the country together, not the few at the very top who seem to get away with not paying their fair share. These are the people described in the Commons yesterday by former Cameron appointed, out of touch multi-millionaire, Tory Government Minister Sir Alan Duncan in the Commons as “low achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and who know absolutely nothing about the outside world”.
When I go for a pint in the Duke, my local, in Sutton, East Hull where I live, we don’t strike up conversations about the latest tax dodging schemes or what the best advice is on where to stash cash offshore so as to avoid paying tax in the UK. Government must govern for all not just the few.
Most decent people think that it’s dodgy to register companies abroad with the sole intent of dodging the tax man. That’s why Dennis Skinner called it yesterday entirely the same as the hard working UK tax paying majority see it. Those so called “low achievers”, those people that work hard and pay their way. Those strivers that live their lives in the real world.
Cameron and his Tory multi-millionaire chums just cannot understand the issues that face ordinary hard working people day in and day out. They have never lived in the real world and that’s why people in my local boozer are telling me, that Skinner was right, and Cameron must go.