Dr David Bates, Director of Politics and International Relations, comments on the Panama Papers and whether they have affected David Cameron’s credibility as Prime Minister.

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron has spoken a great deal about the need to close ‘tax loopholes’. At a Downing Street meeting in 2013, the Prime Minister said:

“Let’s be clear about why this tax issue matters. I mean, if companies don’t properly pay their taxes, and individuals don’t properly pay their taxes, we all suffer as a result. So it’s important we do get our own house in order.”

A tougher policy on tax evasion was supposedly the partner policy to the cuts in benefits. Yet the perception must be that the government is not as enthusiastic about this as it is about removing tax credits and throwing long-standing tenants out of their social housing because they have too many bedrooms.

Mr Cameron has now moved to publish his tax returns, at least those since 2010. It looks as though the Chancellor George Osborne will do the same. Perhaps they should go even further. For a Prime Minister and his Chancellor, tax cannot be a private matter. It ought not to be so for MPs either. Let’s scrutinise all their tax returns. Let’s look not only at if they evaded tax, but also at whether they attempted to avoid making a fair contribution to financing public goods.

It was only on Tuesday last week that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, was forced to resign as a result of widespread public protest and the threat of a no-confidence vote by the Icelandic Parliament. The revolt was initiated by the Pirate Party, a rising force in Icelandic politics. As with David Cameron, this crisis resulted from information in the Panama Papers. Edward Snowden has stated that it will be ‘up to the British people’ if David Cameron is forced to do the same thing. I doubt our parliament will be as efficacious as the Icelandic one. But perhaps ‘people power’ in Britain will follow the example of Iceland’s courageous citizens.

 

*An extended version of this piece can be found on the Politics and International Relations blog.