David Cameron has defended wealth creation and the right for people to hand down the proceeds of their hard work to their children, but still fails to grasp that the anger over the Panama Papers was about tax inequality and not wealth.
In a speech in the Commons following a week of torrid headlines about his personal tax affairs, the prime minister defended aspiration and wealth creation and pointed out that many millions of people strive to better their lot in order to improve conditions for the next generation.
However, his comments have done little to deflect the anger of the British public, who have seen a glimpse into the shadowy world of offshore finance, where the super rich from across the globe try to anonymously stash their cash and protect their wealth from taxation in the countries where it was earned or stolen.
By publishing his tax return, Cameron has demonstrated that he did not act illegally in any way, but that does not answer the question of why someone who claimed that “we’re all in this together” to face austerity, would have money invested in an offshore fund in the first place. That Cameron was made to squirm about his personal use of offshore financial funds at PwC, a firm accused of promoting tax avoidance “on an industrial scale”, made it all the more apparent to the public that it was one rule for the rich and another for everyone else.
It is the use of an offshore tax haven that has caused the outcry, not merely wealth. London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose published tax records show an income far exceeding that of the prime minister, has not faced the same calls for his resignation that have haunted Cameron over the last week because he does not appear to have used offshore jurisdictions for his investments. There is nothing “dodgy” in Johnson’s income, which comes mostly from his Telegraph column, mayoral salary, and book sales, and the general public does not resent his wealth.
Cameron can try with all his might to frame the anger over the Panama papers to be about envy, but the treatment of other wealthy politicians, shows that the anger is not about wealth but unfairness perpetrated by those who for eight years have attempted to cloak themselves as men of the people.