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Wednesday, April 06, 2016 

Questions still remaining, and answers not necessary.

According to Dan Hannan, in full Monty Python colonel mode, this is getting silly.  Likewise, Boris Johnson "cannot see what they are blathering about".

Presumably, neither could Downing Street.  On Monday, David Cameron's father's tax arrangements via his offshore investment fund Blairmore Holdings were deemed "a private matter".  Yesterday it became apparent this wasn't going to hold, and so in the present tense, Dave confirmed he was not benefiting from any offshore holdings or shares, nor did he have any.  Further to that, he then made clear neither did Samantha, apart from a few shares in her father's own onshore property holdings.  Come this morning, and still a further clarification was deemed necessary: now Dave is saying that he also won't benefit from Blairmore in the "future".

You don't have to go into a Jess Phillips routine to find this all a bit rum.  Yes, plenty of us to an extent benefit from investments exempt from tax through putting savings in an ISA.  Yes, plenty of us also want to limit our tax liability as much as we can.  No one likes paying tax, but tax in the aphorism is what we pay for a civilised society.  Clearly however there's a difference between begrudgingly paying what we owe, and going out of our way to avoid paying it, as was the aim with Blairmore.

The obvious question for Cameron now is, was his father right to establish an offshore trust for this purpose?  It's not that he needs to answer whether he benefited from Blairmore in the past, as it's apparent he did.  Cameron has after all been highly critical of individuals who have taken part in artificial tax avoidance schemes.  His not being forthcoming will hardly inspire confidence that he means what he says about cracking down on tax havens and those avoiding/evading tax currently, not least when the OBR's projections on reaching a surplus by 2020 are reliant on more tax coming in through the closing of such loopholes.  This is without even beginning to get into how reliant the Tories are now and have been in the past on funding from businessmen who have either been non-domiciled, or have taken part in similar avoidance schemes.

Nor is there really a parallel here between the anger when the Daily Mail attacked Ed Miliband's father for "hating Britain", and the questions now being raised about Ian Cameron's financial dealings.  No one is suggesting that what Cameron's old man did was illegal, and while you can get on your real high horse ala Phillips about it, there's little point.  Cameron has never denied his privilege, and Blairmore if anything looks to be on the mild end of the lengths some went to avoid paying their fair share.  The point now is whether Cameron will act in concert with other world leaders to prevent the rich and global corporations from paying what they owe.  If that means imposing direct rule on places like the British Virgin Islands, instead of pussyfooting around, then so be it.  It should mean that where a light has begun to be shone into the depths of the offshore world, such as with the Private Eye database of properties owned by overseas companies, this should not then be brought to an abrupt end by the privatisation of the Land Registry.  These are hardly radical steps, especially for a prime minister whom according to the spin has been leading the way already.

Something on the other hand that is very much not a scandal is the hubbub around culture secretary John Whittingdale.  According to Nick Mutch on Byline, in a piece unhappily published on April the 1st, Whittingdale was for at least a year in a relationship with a dominatrix by the name of Olivia King.  No documentary evidence is provided by Mutch to prove that the woman photographed with Whittingdale is an escort, let alone a dominatrix, but let's take that on trust.  If the fact Whittingdale might have been paying for sex isn't enough to make it a story, then Mutch has secondary and third angles.

First, King was apparently at the same time as being paid for her services by the culture secretary also making appearances with a "a member of the London underworld, who has a previous firearms conviction", potentially putting him at risk of blackmail.  Second, the press very much knew about all of this, and yet despite in the past running similarly weak exposes, has decided in this case that Whittingdale's apparent lack of luck with women isn't of interest to the public.  Could this possibly be because of Whittingdale's spoken aversion to the BBC, or his refusal to implement the double costs element of the 2013 Crime and Courts Act?

Or is it that the story is just a bit crap?  Are we really in 2016 pursuing the whole blackmail justification, especially on the remarkably spurious grounds that King was also going out with a "member of the London underworld"?  In the Profumo scandal there was at least a Soviet attache involved.  The idea that the press won't expose him because it's not in their interests doesn't really wash either.  The Tories as a whole weren't keen on the double costs recommended by Leveson, nor are they the BBC.  The Independent and Mail on Sunday might conceivably have factored Whittingdale's usefulness to them into their thinking, but at the expense of bringing a minister down, always regarded as a journalistic coup?  Pull the other one.  Not everything is a conspiracy, nor is every unmarried or single politician being seen out with someone a story.  It really isn't any more complicated than that.

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