Back in 2012, the Daily Telegraph, a Tory paper, reported research which had found that two-thirds of the then Tory/Lib-Dem Cabinet were millionaires. It reckoned the total wealth of 29 Cabinet members at £70 million, and David Cameron’s at £3.8 million.
Since the Panama Papers scandal broke, Cameron has been been trying to present himself as no more than a moderately well-off middle-class person. His father’s Blairmore firm was established in Panama. It made a show of being controlled by puppet directors based there, though the actual bosses were in London, so it would pay no tax. Oh, say Cameron’s apologists, nothing illegal. Normal procedure for an international investment fund. His father was on the Sunday Times Rich List as having £10 million assets before he died. Now David Cameron says he inherited “quite a lot of money” from his dad: £300,000.
That figure, like the £30,000 David Cameron says he made from selling shares in Blairmore, is intended to suggest modest comfort: after all, £300,000 is little enough that an “ordinary” working-class person whose parents paid off their mortgage can inherit it. But no-one claims Cameron’s father disinherited “Dave” and his siblings. Where’s the rest of the £10 million? Where is the family fortune of David Cameron’s wife Samantha? Both her father and her stepfather are aristocratic landowners. She has made her own fortune as “creative director” at a luxury firm, Smythson, which is owned through a holding company in Luxembourg and linked to a trust in Guernsey. This is a government of millionaires, which governs for millionaires. It is a government of and for people for whom “tax management”, manipulating assets to minimise taxes, is routine. For all its talk about tightening up on tax havens, it still runs a tax system in which (thanks to VAT and other regressive taxes) the poorest 10% pay a bigger proportion of their income in tax than the richest 10%.
Claiming that it wants to cut back government debt, the government has systematically cut welfare benefits, especially for the disabled; squeezed local government services to strangulation-point; starved the NHS; and chopped public-service jobs. At the same time, it has cut taxes for the rich. A recent analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies show that the government’s tax-and-benefit plans will continue that siphoning-off from the poor towards the rich for years to come. The Panama Papers revelations (and there are more of them to come) come after the Government’s political grip has already been weakened:
• by its forced retreats on tax credits and further disability benefit cuts
• by its split over Europe
• by the opportunist resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, denouncing welfare cuts as “not defensible in the way they were placed within a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers”
• by an outcry even among Tories against its plan to force “academisation” on all state schools and abolish Qualified Teacher Status.
Still the government continues to do its work. Still the cuts continue. Still the Trade Union Bill makes its way towards becoming law and making large-scale legal public sector strikes almost impossible. Still the Tories can recover their balance if they are allowed to get through this crisis quietly. The labour movement should go on the offensive to get the Tories out.
• Labour councils should refuse to do the work of the wounded beast. They should refuse to pass on the cuts imposed on them by central government. They should follow the example of Clay Cross in the 1970s and Poplar in the 1920s, side with their communities, and defy the government.
• Labour should redouble its drive for the 7 May elections with policies that go to the heart of the matter. That means: policies which propose to take the loot from the billionaires and put it back under the democratic control of the working class which created the wealth. Policies which suggest socialism-by-stealth in consensus with the billionaires, like a national investment bank, are not adequate. The wretched record of the Hollande administration in France, which came to office on election promises well to the left of what Labour proposed in 2010 and then collapsed into right-wing crisis-management, shows that those softly-softly policies do not work, and in fact are abandoned or neutralised at the first crisis.
• The 16 April demonstration against austerity should be made the start of a drive to get the labour movement, and all those who backed Jeremy Corbyn last year, active and out on the streets, in support of disputes like the junior doctors’ and the campaigns to save the NHS and state education.