R.F.Wilson writes from London: It was a bad idea for PM David Cameron to say that comedian Jimmy Carr was ‘morally wrong’ when he avoided paying tax by putting his money into a tax avoidance scheme. And it was similarly bad for Mr Carr to later offer his apologies for doing that, considering that it was perfectly legal. In both cases some pretty lousy advice was given and acted upon, with both men now looking ridiculous.
Why? Because from now on Mr Cameron will be asked to comment on every case of tax avoidance, especially when it would concern people around him. And he would find it difficult to avoid embarrassment, as he has set a precedent with Carr. In fact, hacks have already asked the Prime Minister whether he thinks that it was morally wrong for his great friend, Gary Barlow, the lead man in that hugely talented boy act, Take That, to avoid paying tax in full and he had to explain that he was not in the business of commenting on every single case. And that didn’t sound very convincing, especially as Mr Barlow has recently been included in the Queen’s honour list, no doubt on the advice of Mr Cameron.
In an ideal world Mr Cameron should have responded to the question about Mr Carr’s financial situation by saying that he doesn’t comment on other people’s financial matters, as long as they are not in breach of the law. And it would have been wiser for the comedian to tell everyone to mind their own business, when confronted with questions about his finances. And I bet that the matter would have fizzled out in no time, because if we are being honest about it, it’s not really some huge news item. Well, at least it wasn’t until PM Cameron made a big thing out of it.
For me, though, the most amazing thing about this whole affair was that Mr Carr, a comedian of very average talents, was actually earning quite a packet, something like three millions smackers a year. Who on earth pays good money to go watch his gigs? It’s not as if he is able to set the house on fire with his wit and humour. Which his pathetic apology for paying less tax proves once again.
Even more surprising was the revelation that the boys from Take That have made an absolute fortune, along with Gary, when their songs are not exactly catchy tunes that make you want to dance and sing along. Very average stuff actually, not to mention that their live performances smack of serious amateurishness.
It remains to be seen now whether hacks would start digging for information about other tax avoiders, to see what Mr Cameron thinks about them. If so, it would be fun to watch how the prime minster handles it. He does have a knack for creating problems for himself, so that would not be first time. And there would be Cobra meetings and a lot of burning the midnight oil, thinking how to get out of this new mess he got himself in.
Mind you, tax avoidance costs the Treasury something like £4.5 billion a year. At least that is what Chancellor George Osborne estimates it to be. But if you compare that to amounts used in bailing out the banks, providing overseas aid and fighting wars this sum pales into insignificance. So in a way tax avoiders start to look as protesters against waste of public money, by keeping it to themselves.