After his worst month since entering office, David Cameron has launched a media offensive in an attempt to draw a line under the government’s woes. His interview on this morning’s Today programme covered Abu Qatada, Lords reform and the Budget but the most notable exchange was on tax avoidance.
Challenged by a particularly pugnacious John Humphreys to say whether he considered Philip Green’s decision to register his company in the name of his Monaco-based wife a form of “aggressive tax avoidance” (the phrase used by George Osborne in the Budget), Cameron flailed. He insisted that he was unwilling to comment on Green’s tax affairs despite hiring him to advise the government on cutting waste. Indeed, he said he would not comment on any individual’s tax status. Yet as Labour MP Chris Bryant noted on Twitter, this didn’t stop him repeatedly attacking Ken Livingstone for tax avoidance at last week’s PMQs.
Under pressure from Humphreys, Cameron eventually conceded that “generally speaking” it was “sensible” not to deal with people enaged in “morally repugnant” tax avoidance. His words have set a significant precedent. Cameron will now be challenged to abide by this standard whenever any Tory donor or outside adviser is found to have avoided their fair share.
On Lords reform, Cameron argued that the introduction of a mainly-elected second chamber was a “sensible, reasonable, rational” reform. He refused to rule out a referendum, as proposed by the joint committee, but added that there was a “strong case” against one. A referendum would be expensive and all three of the main parties advocated Lords reform in their manifestos. He argued that reform would only happen when MPs on all sides behaved in a “grown-up” fashion. With little sign of that, the status quo is likely to endure for some time yet.
The interview ended with Humphreys questioning Cameron on whether he is, as some claim, “too relaxed” or “lazy”. Cameron replied that he was normally at work at his kitchen table at 5:45am but this won’t stop some Tories questioning whether he makes the best use of those hours. However, his insistence that “it’s got to be possible to be a decent husband, a good father and a good prime minister” is one all politicians should echo.