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13 April 2016

PMQs review: David Cameron moves into safe territory on tax

A wonkish debate over overseas registers suits the PM far more than scrutiny of his affairs. 

By George Eaton

It is just days since David Cameron was charged with misleading the country and rushed out his tax returns by way of apology. At today’s PMQs, he found himself debating the competing merits of private and public overseas registers with Jeremy Corbyn. In others words, the Prime Minister is back in safe territory. A wonkish exchange on crown dependencies is far preferable to further scrutiny of his and his ministers’ affairs.

Corbyn, who for the first time did not ask a crowdsourced question, began in punchy form, demanding to know why Conservative MEPs voted against country-by-country tax reporting (the PM failed to explain). When Cameron derided his opponent’s tax return as a “metaphor for Labour policy – it was late, it was chaotic, it was inaccurate, it was uncosted”, Corbyn sharply riposted: “I actually paid more tax than some companies owned by people that he might know quite well” (a reference to George Osborne’s family’s wallpaper firm). This was an old-style dig of the kind that the Labour leader once eschewed – and all the better for it.

But Corbyn soon moved on to the worthy but dull business of tax registers – white noise to most voters. Though it is hardly the Labour leader’s fault, Cameron plausibly argued that he had done more than the opposition during its 13 years in office.

The Prime Minister’s most embarrassing moment came not over tax but over the death of Arnold Wesker. After Corbyn paid tribute to the socialist dramatist, Cameron echoed his sentiments but was unable to recall Wesker’s name (ironically referring to the “famous playwright”). But set against his missteps last week, the Prime Minister will happily forgive himself this slip. 

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