Friday, 8 April 2016
The sins of one's father
One cannot atone for the sins of one's father. One cannot even atone for their accounting choices. I dare say that, gazing back through my family tree, among the many fine and upstanding people, several of the characters that feature would have done something of which I thoroughly disapprove. I imagine there was a racist, a bully, maybe a petty criminal and a blithering incompetent. There's little I can do about it. And I reckon I do things that will make my daughters in future roll their eyes in bewilderment.
I actually feel a bit sorry for David Cameron for this is the problem he now faces. He cannot undo the business decisions his father made and it must be very excruciatingly painful for him to see a figure he loved and so obviously admired to be hauled over the coals, especially as his financial arrangements were far from unusual and all tax owed - under the law - was paid. People claiming that Cameron has benefited from tax dodging are simply wrong. He hasn't.
Nothing illegal has occurred. That does not mean, however, that the prime minister hasn't made a series of terrible of mistakes that yet again leaves his judgement open to question. While the urge to defend the honour and privacy of one's father is a perfectly natural instinct, it is hard to imagine how it could have been handled more incompetently.
It is the end of yet another wretched week for the government and most of the problems are entirely self-inflicted. In his interview last night, yet again David Cameron said 'I don't have anything to hide', but it was the fifth statement on his financial affairs, having spent the week trying to dodge the question.
David Cameron was at pains to say Blairmore Investments wasn't set up to avoid tax. Yet, the 2006 prospectus for the scheme stated:
'The directors intend that the affairs of the fund should be managed and conducted so that it does not become resident in the UK for UK taxation purposes... the fund will not be subject to UK corporation tax or income tax on its profits'.
And it is noticeable that both the prime minister's £300,000 inheritance and £19,000 profit from Blairmore both happened to be just below thresholds above which tax would have been due.
Why also did Cameron sell his stake in January 2010? It surely cannot have been because he feared how it might appear if he were to win that year's general election, can it?
And while not strictly necessary under the rules, it is a noticeable omission from his Register of Interests after repeatedly asserting his transparency.
The claim that 'we are all in this together' also sounds particular hollow now and Cameron's criticism of others using offshore vehicles - such as Jimmy Carr - does appear at the very least foolish, if not hypocritical, now.
These are awkward questions which the prime minister may still face pressure to answer.
Oddly, though, they're almost irrelevant. The bigger issue is political competence. Lurching from self-inflicted wound to self-inflicted wound, the government currently gives the impression of being tired and out of ideas, much like John Major's administration after the disaster of Black Wednesday.
Consider the last few weeks. George Osborne's budget took three days to fall apart spectacularly. Jeremy Hunt is proving more unpopular at health than even Michael Gove at education and the junior doctors' dispute shows no sign of being over anytime soon. Sajid Javid found himself on a jaunt in Australia when Tata was holding a crucial, and long expected, meeting on the future of the British steel industry. Even the EU pamphlet, while in many ways perfectly understandable, is a £9.3million invitation for a bit of internecine warfare.
One can only think that the most plausible explanation for this is the EU referendum. The government is chronically divided and is struggling to present an agreed voice on almost anything. We witness, on a ridiculously frequent basis, ministers within the same departments saying contradictory things - meaning that focusing and simply getting the basics right is very difficult to achieve.
The biggest danger for the government is that this image of incompetence might sway voters in the EU referendum. While it is fair to say neither side of the Brexit debate has covered itself with glory, no one wants to be on the same side as an incompetent and it always looks worse coming from a government. Voters might tick the box to leave the EU simply to give the government a bloody nose rather than because it's something they actually want to do.
Despite the ineptitude, however, any calls from Labour for Cameron to resign are way over the top and while the government does seem tired, it remains very hard to imagine a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn ready to step into the breach.
It is recoverable, of course. Cameron simply must shore up the team around him for currently he is receiving woeful advice. And if the Prime Minister wins the EU referendum - which still seems most likely - he will have the opportunity to shake up his cabinet, refresh it and try and push on; though it will be a struggle to keep all sides happy.
In the end, it does rather feel that the final days of the David Cameron era has arrived. If he loses the EU referendum he's a goner anyway, but if he wins he will at least have the opportunity to depart on his own terms.