THE epithet is irresistible to the Daily Mirror today – “Dodgy Dave”. The front page of a paper that is reliably unfriendly to David Cameron says: “How many people believe you’ve come clean about tax, PM?” next to a photograph of Cameron forming a zero with his thumb and first finger.
Full marks for picture research on that one. Politicians always stand in danger of being tripped up by pictures. If the days when Nigel Farage used to hog the headlines, a lovely photograph showed the Ukip leader taking an unwise boat trip, snapping him next to a sign bearing the word ‘Slippery.’
Revelations in the so-called Panama Papers about Mr Cameron’s late father’s offshore tax arrangements dominate this morning’s news, with several papers giving the story front-page treatment.
Initially Mr Cameron had insisted his finances were a “private matter”. This phrase was open to interpretation. Did he mean ‘private’ as in ‘none of your business’; or ‘private’ as in ‘privately arranged so as to avoid scrutiny’.
Of course he meant the first and hoped that would put an end to it. But after “24 hours of confusion and criticism he caved in to pressure” to make a statement, according to the Tory-friendly Telegraph.
Two things stand out about this statement: the delivery of these carefully chosen words; and the location of that delivery. The nub of the quote was: “I own no shares, no offshore trust, no offshore funds, nothing like that. And, so that, I think, is a very clear description.”
His statement was a studiously prepared reply to a reporter, Faisal Islam, and began with two telling words: “Sure. Look….” A verbal tic that recalls Tony Blair and his attempts to look like an honest, ordinary guy (How’s that working out, Tony?).
And the location? Another of those public showcases where David Cameron surrounds himself with ordinary people, in Birmingham on this occasion, and a handful of journalists. The PM virtually never holds what you might call press conferences, where hordes of journalists ask awkward questions; instead he makes carefully stage-managed appearances where the questions are few and rarely too, well, taxing.
Does all this look bad for David Cameron? Well it certainly whiffs a bit, and he doesn’t really appear to have fully answered the questions put to him. His carefully phrased answer was put in the present tense, thereby raising questions about whether or not he has benefited from such trusts in the past or might do in the future – and whether other members of his family have benefited in the past or will do in the future.
What does play badly is that most of us don’t have the wherewithal to make complicated tax-swerving arrangements. There is, by the way, no suggestion that Cameron Senior did anything illegal, although most people will probably consider such movement of money to be less than wholesome. And not something that should be done.
The thing about Cameron is that he is posh and has never pretended otherwise – and that’s the sort of thing people from that background got up to at the time. Like the rest of us, he isn’t responsible for his father’s behaviour.
As an often lucky politician, he may well slip away from this controversy, making another well-greased dash for the door. One bit of luck Cameron has lies in the bearded form of Jeremy Corbyn. So often it seems that the two square up for a gunfight, only for Corbyn to recall that he doesn’t like to carry a gun, leaving Cameron to whip his out and score another easy hit. That certainly was the case after the Gunfight at the Duncan Smith Corral, when the Labour leader failed to even mention the loudly departed minister.
Corbyn has been stronger on the matter of Daddy Cameron’s Panama proclivities, so that at least is something.