With one bound he was free

There. It’s out. Doesn’t that feel better, David? No more suspicion, no more innuendo; we can all see that you’re clean. Still filthy rich, of course, and so unlikely to be able to empathise with the rest of us; but your tax return, revealed today, seems to show that you’ve not been indulging in any illegalities (tax evasion) or what most of us would regard as immoralities (tax avoidance) to make you even richer. Over the past six years, at least. And setting your dodgy Dad aside.

Unless, of course, you’ve hidden something that those envious Corbynite plebs might uncover later, to bring the whole gleaming sepulchre tumbling down. But that’s unlikely – if only because it’s hard to imagine that you, a clever politician, would run such a risk.

No; the main danger to the Conservative government now is that Cameron’s entirely praiseworthy action might be thought to set a precedent for his ministerial colleagues, many of whom may well not be as snowy white as he. This will be difficult and embarrassing for them to try to resist. George Osborne’s tax returns will be next. I’m looking forward to that. After all, he was the one who once gave advice on television to people who wanted to avoid death duty: ‘I probably shouldn’t be saying this’ (below, April 6). And I can’t believe that many of the others haven’t got off-shore accounts. Several Labour, Lib-Dem and SNP MPs too, I suspect. Chicanery isn’t a strictly party matter, although Tories, having more money, and a different moral attitude towards taxation (aka ‘robbery’), are likely to be the chief villains here.

Which is why this move by Cameron, whatever its main motivation, which is likely to be short-term – to get him out of an immediate political fix just before the EU referendum – could prove to have quite revolutionary implications. To repeat (below, April 5): the idea that one’s financial affairs are purely a private matter is a very upper-class British notion, not shared, for example, in Scandinavia. There, as is well known, everyone’s tax returns are open to public scrutiny. It is society, after all, in the form of democratically-elected governments, that sets the conditions within which everyone earns his or her bread; so – the argument goes – the public is entitled to see how and what use they make of what they earn (or inherit). Of course there are ways of circumventing this – again, I’m sure some Swedish names will turn up in the ‘Panama Papers’ – but still, the principle is there. The result in Scandinavia appears to be a more open society than ours; where our secrecy on a number of fronts – the ‘Secret Service’ is another – is bound to give rise to public distrust. And endemic distrust can’t be good for democracy. It is arguable that it has been the bane of British politics and society for years.

So, all credit to Cameron for initiating what could turn out to be a momentous change in British governance. More momentous, I suspect, than he ever imagined. He’s only a clever politician, after all.


Postscript. Why has all the Tory press come out so strongly against Cameron on this? You’d have thought they would have mustered loyally to his side. He had a case, after all, and a pretty conventional Conservative one at that. I’m sure the press proprietors are fiddling their taxes much more than he is, and not seeing any harm in it. Could it just be his stance on the issue of Europe? He and Osborne will be leading the ‘Remain’ camp. Most of the right-wing press sides with Brexit. A few weeks ago they had it in for Osborne, over an issue on which you would think – again – they would have taken his side (cutting welfare). Now they’re hoping to chop down Cameron too. It must all have to do with the referendum. Europe isn’t only making for strange bedfellows; it’s also leading the Conservatives’ usual sleeping partners to throw off their duvets.

PPS. Two days later. They’ve returned to the fold. (http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/apr/12/rightwing-press-rallies-to-david-camerons-side-over-tax-storm).

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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