In defence of David Cameron on Friday, the Business Minister Nick Boles tells us 'it is a natural human instinct to rally round our families'. Of course it is. That's why the Prime Minister said Thursday in an interview that he is proud of his late father building a lucrative business, on which he secretly avoided paying tax. 'Proud' is a word Cameron uses a lot, along with the words 'hard-working, tax-paying families'. In fact, in criticising Jimmy Carr in 2012 he said: "People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he ...is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes. ...But some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong.' Then last year, he tweeted this: 'I have a simple view that if you have done the right thing - worked, saved and paid your taxes - you should be rewarded...'
There's a simple theme running here and it is 'hard-working, tax-paying families'. I've always thought this is a very effective bit of emotive language, and it's no accident. Focus groups were set up, and political 'strategists' were paid a lot of money to tell the PM to keep using those words. I think the reason being that when we hear them we think he's talking about us. Nobody wants to admit that they are not hard-working. Work is seen as virtuous and this belief has not escaped any of us. Even if your work is setting up offshore funds that clearly serve no purpose except to make rich people richer, it is still considered 'work'. Of course, policemen and cleaners and retailers actually work hard, and they are whom Cameron wants us to think he is talking about. 'Hard-working' works like a dream, so on to 'tax-paying'... This phrase is a gift to politicians, because most people pay tax. We have no choice about it, so it's applicable to us all. Again, when we hear that phrase, we think "tax-paying? That's me!" Because we are basically idiots. 'Families' is a no-brainer. All of us had parents at some point. Some of us even get married. Cameron likes married people so much he gives them a tax allowance. He even supported gay marriage, because it's only fair that they get to be smug too.
So there it is in its simple genius: 'hard-working, tax-paying families'. This got me thinking about my own family, and whether I could be proud of them in the same way Cameron says he is of his father, at a time that I'm sure is neither opportunistic nor exploitative. My own father has not, as yet, poured our family money into a Panama-based tax haven. I think this is because we do not have 'family money'. Nobody has 'family money'. My father is a retired bricklayer, he has built homes, but has he built a legacy of wealth based on compensation for the freedom of his slaves? Not as far as I'm aware. My brother and his family live in Calderdale and run an eco-friendly business there. It's very nice, but every year severe flooding damages their business and/or home. The thing is, the floods actually really benefit Cameron's mate's grouse-shooting estates, so the devastation of their community is just a compromise they have to make. My brother is also a teacher, at a time when the profession is in crisis due to a national shortage, but can he keep a grouse dry and then kill it? No, he cannot. Not proud. My sister-in-law has worked in mental health for years. Her patients are some of the most vulnerable people in society. With cuts to mental health services, staff, welfare support, education, policing, charity funding and social services, she has had her work cut out. She supports young people whose lives are literally being threatened by this government's cuts. David Cameron's brother-in-law, William Waldorf Astor IV, has inherited wealth from one of the world's richest families and has investments in offshore companies thereby avoiding tax. So there's something for everyone to be proud of here.
I can totally relate to the 'human instinct to rally round our families', and I am glad the PM's family is just like mine. Now, when we hear David Cameron talk about 'hard-working, tax-paying families', we know he knows what that means.