THE BLOG

Tax Avoidance Has Always Been the Tories' Dirty Little Secret

14/04/2016 15:08

It has been an incredibly interesting fortnight in politics after the emergence of the Panama papers and developments surrounding David Cameron's involvement in offshore dealings. Despite what has been a disastrous period for the Prime Minister, his response and the reception it received in the Commons from his party make it clear that the Tories don't actually care about tax avoidance or public opinion on the matter.

Mr Cameron took full responsibility for the poor handling of the situation but not the action itself and instead stood up and accused Labour of being the enemy of aspiration, insinuating they were wrong to ever question his financial affairs. The Prime Minister has started to play the victim, describing his sadness of the treatment of his father in the press and his party are fully supporting him. You only have to look at the jubilant response from Tory backbenchers when Cameron announced he was going to force them to publish their tax returns to see that tax avoidance is the dirty little secret of the Tory party and the truth is, now it's out in the open, they don't really care.

Addressing Tory activists at the annual spring forum soon after the revelations, Mr Cameron said it had "not been a great week," a statement which was greeted with laughter from the audience. Tax avoidance isn't a laughing matter but the response from the audience of core party members says a lot: It just isn't a big deal for the Tories and it's apparently comical that people are kicking up a fuss.

In 2008 after the Global Financial Crisis, the then Labour government took crucial steps to clamp down on tax havens and the United Kingdom was at the forefront of international discussions on how to tackle the problem. Since the Tories have taken charge, this has come to a grinding halt. There have been a few murmurs from the government from time to time about wanting to tackle the problem. There were announcements of plans for an anti-corruption summit to be held, which have since failed to materialise and it has also come to light that the government intervened to oppose the beneficiaries of off-shore trusts being named in proposed European Union money laundering laws.

Senior Tories, including Boris Johnson, have been unusually quiet throughout the scandal, but when asked, Mr Johnson has refused to condemn the use of offshore trusts. In the past he has made his position very clear about tax avoidance, saying that it is 'absurd' to blame Google for not paying their taxes and the super-rich are 'put-upon minority' like homeless people or Irish travellers.

Mr Johnson isn't alone in his sympathetic views towards tax avoidance, George Osborne has also been caught up in the scandal, publishing his tax returns which reportedly show dividends from a family company headquartered offshore. It's not the first time the Chancellor has been cagey when talking about personal tax issues. His family business reportedly made a £6milllion property deal with an offshore company and Mr Osborne refused to discuss his family's finances at the time.

The current situation is poisonous, but it's only really poisonous for Mr Cameron. The party itself hasn't been tainted and as Mr Cameron won't be party leader in 2020, if the anger remains directed at the Prime Minister, the Tories can essentially get away with it. If you really want to make a difference, wait till 2020. It might seem a long way away but the next general election is the first available chance for the electorate to collectively do something and show politicians that tax avoidance isn't something we tolerate.

We need to get behind politicians that really want to do something about tax avoidance and make sure at the next election, we don't let someone who is soft on the issue get close to Number 10. Until then, don't forget about this, don't let it go and make sure it is as much of an issue in 2020 as it is today. The more we talk about it, the more we put it on social media, the more likely politicians are to sit up and take notice and accept that the general public care about tax avoidance and won't stand for it any longer.

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