EVEN WITHOUT the looming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, David Cameron would be facing one of the fights of his political life after it emerged that he had personally profited from investments that were held in a Panamanian tax haven.
For, while this complex case does not involve any law-breaking, it does create the damaging impression that Mr Cameron and his late father Ian used this means to cut their UK tax liabilities.
One of the most serious charges that can be levelled against any politician, and one which has even wider resonance because of the hypocrisy involved, it comes at a time when Mr Cameron was struggling to come to terms with a succession of policy blunders and broken promises which risk distorting the referendum campaign.
Of course the call to resign from some Labour MPs needs to be placed in context – what else would they say and do? – but this should not detract from the seriousness of Mr Cameron’s predicament.
The background is key. Like any father, Mr Cameron senior wanted the very best for his children. He probably had little inkling that one of his sons would become Prime Minister – or his financial dealings with Blairmore Holdings would be the subject of one of the biggest leaks in corporate history.
Yet what makes this scandal so potentially destructive is because the Cameron family’s financial dealings, including the use of anonymous ‘bearer shares’ to protect their identity, appear to be so at odds with the Prime Minister’s repeated condemnation of such schemes.
Mr Cameron – and aides – sought to downplay the seriousness of this scandal on five separate occasions on five successive days before the Prime Minister grudgingly confirmed that he, and his wife, Samantha, did indeed profit from the offshore investment fund in question after selling their stake shortly before the 2010 general election.
The past week’s obfuscation, and use of semantics, has been misguided. If the Tory leader had come clean at the outset rather than appearing to be so economical with the truth, he might not be facing so much scepticism over his defence – namely a desire to protect his father’s reputation – and a barrage of follow-up questions over his integrity.
He should have known better. Even if Mr Cameron does publish his tax returns – he has promised this in the past before going back on his word – it actually creates more problems because his 2010 windfall does not appear to have been registered with the Parliamentary authorities as the unit trusts in question are evidently exempt from the rules.
At the very least, the Prime Minister needs to make a personal statement to Parliament next week and provide straight answers to straight questions. If he repeats his Chancellor’s post-Budget disappearing act, it will be even harder to win back sufficient support before an election on June 23 which threatens not only to be a vote on Britain’s future in Europe, but a referendum on Mr Cameron’s trustworthiness and place in history.
Representing all: Police and the issue of diversity
THAT Dee Collins is West Yorkshire’s first female Chief Constable – albeit on a temporary basis because Mark Gilmore remains suspended – is indicative of the progress which still needs to be made on the issue of police diversity.
If constabularies are to command the respect and confidence of law-abiding residents, they should – where possible – be representative of the communities that they purport to serve. This means more female officers. It also requires more police being recruited from ethnic minority backgrounds.
This is not to criticise Miss Collins, who faces an inquisition by Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday. To her credit, she was the first to acknowledge last year that her force, the constabulary she is proud to lead, was “not where I want it to be” in terms of ethnic diversity after it emerged that just three per cent of officers at inspector level or above were non-white.
The one mitigating factor, she said, was the recruitment freeze which had stymied any attempts to redress this imbalance. However this is not an excuse – last year’s Autumn Statement unexpectedly paved the way for the police to recruit a new generation of officers.
Although the priority should be recruiting the best qualified individual to every role – Britain is still a meritocracy – this should not stand in the way of West Yorkshire Police, and all other forces, encouraging people from all sections of society, and all walks of life, to consider a career in policing. If this happened, Miss Collins would not be such a rarity – a female chief constable at the helm of one of the country’s largest metropolitan forces.