Ok, it's official. I think I'm turning into a curmudgeonly old man.
Over the last week I've watched the frenzy around Cameron and his offshore activities with an increasing sense of despair, disbelief, embarrassment, resignation and finally understanding.
In case you've been in a bunker for the last ten days or so, Cameron has been accused of benefiting mightily from funds held in an offshore tax haven in an arrangement set up by his late father, Ian Cameron, many years ago.
The despair is because of the complete lack of interest in any real sense of the facts. Ian Cameron's father worked at Panmure Gordon, a long-standing city broking firm. The fund was set up in 1982 and managed initially by Panmure. It is effectively what is now known as a Ucits or undertaking for collective investments in transferable securities. Catchy, eh?
The media would have this as some shady vehicle. In fact, Ucits are one of most common vehicles through which people (not exclusively the wealthy) invest. They were established with the aim of providing a single European regulatory framework for people across the EU to invest without having to worry which country a fund is domiciled in. Over £6tn is said to be invested in these vehicles. Yes, they are based offshore and if the fund increases in value, or the underlying investments produce income, those gains and income are not taxed in the fund. But the offshore status of the fund does not in itself allow investors to avoid tax on their gains and income. These funds are set up to avoid double taxation, but investors still need to pay tax on their profits in their home country. As Cameron duly did. So far, so boring.
The disbelief? Well, that was the sheer triviality of it all. I mean, how is any of this news? The investments (in a delicious irony, the fund was called Blairmore) were sold for £31,500. The Camerons paid income tax on dividends received whilst they held the fund, and the performance of the asset was so lousy that there were insufficient gains to get Cameron over the capital gains tax-free threshold. Maybe that was the crime? Britain likes to boast about its financial services industry and here is our Prime Minister holding a lousy performing asset (it has declined by 8 per cent over the last five years whilst the FTSE All World index has risen a third). What sort of leadership is that?
The embarrassment? Well, we can't do anything right in this country can we. I mean look at Putin. Now that is worth a bit of media fuss. Allegedly billions of dollars held on his behalf offshore by all sorts of acquaintances (the richest cellist in history being one of them). And yet listening to the radio this week, you'd have heard a Russian citizen saying 'so what, he is the head of state, he should be wealthy'. Here? Well, it’s pathetic. Thirty-one and a half thousand. Not billion. Not even million. Thousand. Say it to yourself and then wonder how we get to a situation where our prime minister has done no work this week; he is too busy dealing with calls from the media, the so-called opposition and some noisy protestors who are calling for his resignation.
Yes, the resignation? Well, it’s his own fault really isn't it. Cameron – the ex-PR man who forgot all the rules. When the media try to whip something like this up, the golden rule is 'tell it all, tell it early and tell it yourself.' Cameron did none of those things and allowed the frenzy to build up to such a crescendo that actually nobody is listening to anything as trivial as the facts. The bloodlust is up.
And now to the understanding. This is all part of essentially the infantilising of our society. Facts don't matter. You just need a little drop of blood in the water and the piranhas of the print and social media will do the rest. This is a non-story, it’s actually dull, we should all have better things to do, but we don't because the story has been told in such a way that we don't focus on the facts. Still I realised at the end of the week that social media (this pontificating curmudgeon is not on Facebook) does have its benefits. The BBC carried a fun piece on 13 of the world's most stupid criminals. My favourites? The guy who boasted about his plans to raid a supermarket in a post which included a selfie, a knife and the words: 'Doing. Tesco. Over'. Yes, really. Or the terrorist who handed himself in to collect a reward described somewhat unflatteringly by an American official as 'clearly an imbecile.'
Maybe we deserve what we get.
For more information please contact Rob Donaldson.