This week as PanamaGate has been unravelling, several of David Camerons Cabinet colleagues have tried to explain his actions and they seem to have created a bit of a mess. It may have been that people like Nick Boles and Michael Fallon along with one or two others have been thinking on their feet, or worse still it could be that they are passing out an agreed set of arguments that don’t really stack up. The most consistent but also in my view the most damaging argument which has emerged towards the end of the week from almost every Tory interviewed apart from Cameron himself, is that he could have handled things better and he should have been more open far quicker than he was. For Cameron himself to admit that would have been difficult, but perhaps better than allowing his colleagues to criticise him as they have. Assuming that a Prime Ministers has to deal with all sorts of issues, including what happens when the state gets it wrong, this seems very damaging. A friend of mine argues that we will all make 3 mistakes a day, so the issue is what we do with each of the mistakes. The State makes millions of mistakes every hour along with taking some damaging actions intentionally and our Prime Minister will inevitably have to answer for some of them. This was not a good example of David Camerons capacity to deal with a problem of modest proportions and it seems that most of the Conservative Party is disappointed and many of us are very angry.
According to various commentators, and consistent with my own current understanding, Ian Cameron did nothing wrong. He offered a high risk investment vehicle that was accessible only to the very wealthy, taking advantage of the cultural and legal norms of the 1990’s. Apart from it demanding a large stake to invest in the fund, it would be something that all credible financial advisers would argue should only form a small part of the investors disposable wealth, and should only be considered after much safer tax free investments (such as PEPs or ISA’s) have been fully exhausted. For this reason it is entirely wrong for commentators to suggest that most people have invested in funds such as this. The idea that because a fund manager for a pension may choose a similar vehicle for part of the portfolio is irrelevant. Few people have pension funds that inform, let alone consult their members to the extent that choices are any more sophisticated than choosing property fund over equities, UK funds over overseas funds. However let us be clear, this fund was worth Millions because a small number of people (probably several hundred) did what David Cameron did and have access to the sort of funds that he has. Blairmore is one of numerous such funds in the market, so there will be possibly as many as a Million people in the UK whose investments are of a similar nature.
That then leaves me with two concerns:
If Ian Cameron did nothing wrong, why would David Camerons closest colleagues suggest that his actions were in part to protect his Fathers reputation? This was the line taken by both Boles and Fallon and one suspects the line set out by Number 10 by the end of this week. We all protect our family in different ways and protecting ones parents is an important thing to do. If Cameron was seen to be protecting his Father, this seems to be in stark contrast to the way in which he has frequently used the personal experience of his son when it comes to arguments about the NHS. This begins to suggest a man who uses his family when it suits him and protects them when it does not, or perhaps it is simply yet another ill thought through line of defence.
The 1000 – 1M people in the UK who are wealthy enough and have some of the same opportunities as David Cameron, would not have disposed of their investments in 2010 when Cameron did, because unlike him, they were not shortly to become Prime Minister. Most of them are not bound by disclosure rules and so they are no doubt continuing to invest in funds located in Panama and the British Virgin Islands etc. Their wealth has the potential to help support British businesses and sustain reputable overseas regimes. The way in which David Cameron has handled this weeks revelations has provided these people with no leadership whatsoever. It is true that many of these people don’t need an old Etonian to tell them what to do, just as most of us would rather he did not tell us what to do, but it is surely part of his role to provide some form of national leadership, not to spend his time defending his own reputation and that of his Father who appears not to have done anything wrong. As pressure mounts for Cameron and Osborne to close or make transparent all tax havens which are under British influence, and persuade other nations to do the same, these wealthy people will want to find new morally responsible places to invest their money. Simply hiding behind the sofa will not deal with that issue.