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Cameron, offshore trusts and…plain trust

Terry portrait with tieLike all leaders, David Cameron has been called a few things, and after the events of this week he risks picking up a few more sobriquets: an Arthur Daley-style ‘ducker and diver’, or maybe Teflon man. Despite criticism over the EU leaflets and his backtracking over the Panama papers it seems nothing sticks to the Prime Minister.

The use of taxpayers’ money to pay for a mass distribution of a leaflet giving only one side of the EU membership debate is wrong. The nearest comparison was the Scottish White Paper on the constitution which was nothing less than an SNP manifesto.

Apart from the politically-twisted message in the EU leaflets, did no one think that it would have been cheaper, and arguably more effective, to put out the message on social media, YouTube and other electronic media?

Cost and effectiveness aside, this is a mis-use of public funds. Mr Cameron would not be able to use taxpayers’ money for Conservative party propaganda. It’s difficult to see the difference in this case.

His week has ended as badly as it began with an embarrassing admission that his family did own shares in an offshore trust, after all.

After three days of statements from Downing Street that the PM had nothing to hide from accusations emanating from the Panama papers he finally confessed that he owned and later sold shares in a Panama-based fund set up by his late father.

Speaking to ITV News’ Robert Peston he admitted a link to the tax-avoiding fund which appeared in the documents.

He held the shares with his wife, Samantha, and said they were sold in January 2010 for a profit of £19,000.

Labour MP John Mann, a member of the Treasury select committee, called on the Prime Minister to resign.

Despite the fact that tax avoidance has been a priority of his government, resignation looks unlikely, not least because the transaction took place ahead of his arrival in Downing Street and because there was nothing illegal in what he did. Even so, at the very least this smacks of double standards.

Mr Cameron initially declared that he held “no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds”. That may be true now, but the full extent of his previous financial dealings have been dragged out of him in a rather unedifying manner.

This comes down to a different kind of trust and for Mr Cameron this business also adds to his image as a “posh Tory boy” whose personal wealth and tax affairs have little in common with those he represents.

Of course, it has been said that the great wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill also had some curious tax arrangements. That doesn’t lessen the need for a full explanation of how our current leaders behave.

Mr Cameron will, once again, sail through this crisis, though the events of the past week will make it an uncomfortable first PM’s Question Time when the Commons returns next week.

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