11 April 2016

David Cameron has done nothing wrong on tax


Have you ever bought an ISA? Or held premium bonds? Then, my friend, you are a tax avoider.

Sensible tax planning doesn’t make you a bad person. If you have money to give away, give it to a well-chosen charity; don’t hand it to the government to spend on subsidies to wealthy landowners/mandatory racism awareness courses/pro-EU propaganda leaflets.

Minimising your tax exposure within the rules isn’t some sneaky dodge. It’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s why we have rules.

It’s true, of course, that some of these rules are silly. They create perverse incentives, and allow some super-wealthy individuals to exploit loopholes. But that is an argument against the Chancellors who, in pursuit of good headlines, wrote the silly rules. It is not an argument against the people who follow them.

I’ve never liked the idea that you can distinguish between legitimate tax avoidance (buying an ISA) and “aggressive” tax avoidance (investing in unsuccessful films). The only way to draw such a distinction is by law. That’s what laws are.

But even if you do like the idea that some forms of legal tax avoidance are immoral, David Cameron hasn’t engaged in any of them. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

We’ve now had four days of posturing, moralising and sneering. But it’s still far from clear what the PM is supposed to have done wrong. OK, it would have been sensible to have been quicker to volunteer the fact that he had an investment in his father’s fund. But the insinuation that there was something wrong with holding that investment is outrageous. Even more outrageous is the suggestion that there is something wrong with a mother giving money to her son. How can any parent fail to understand – indeed, applaud – that impulse?

Sorry, but it won’t do to keep repeating “Tories” and “tax havens” in a sarcastic tone. If you’re going to accuse David Cameron of some specific malfeasance, let’s hear it. If not, haud yer wheesht.

Some people resent David Cameron because he was born into wealth. I feel sorry for those people: envy is an ugly and debilitating condition. Fortunately, though, it is far less widespread than its sufferers assume. Most of us aren’t bothered about the fact that others are richer than we are, which is one reason that David Cameron was able to become Prime Minister and then win the last general election.

If you want to have a go at the PM for, say, spending £9.3 million of our own money on telling us what to think, fine. That’s politics. I’m pretty cross about it myself. But these attacks on his personal integrity are unworthy and unmanly.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament and blogs at www.hannan.co.uk.