A vandal smashing a window and calling it air conditioning. A mother marrying her son and declaring it a lesson in advanced sexual morality. A shoplifter caught with a chicken up his jumper and congratulating the store detectives on their commitment to property rights. That’s how David Cameron ducked the tax-abuse row at PMQs today. He basked in hypocrisy. He wallowed in smugness. He luxuriated in panic measures and called them far-sighted statesmanship.
He chose to posture as the brilliant leader of a brilliant government whose brilliant new policy is to rip down the cloaks of secrecy that protect Britain’s tax-dodge paradises overseas. And he contrasted his zeal with the useless Labour party which, as he gloated several times, did nothing for 13 years. In truth, Cameron was squirming like a greased piglet but he has the demeanour of a national hunt champion, and his opponents seem mesmerised by his flashy rhythm over the high fences. No one seriously challenged him.
Corbyn had a moan about Inland Revenue budgets but Cameron squashed him flat by revealing that a smaller pay-roll has delivered a larger inspectorate. Today’s cage-fight was notably short of venom and personal ire. Corbyn’s chops succumbed to an involuntary chuckle as Cameron called his tax-return a typical Labour document,
‘Late, chaotic, uncosted and inaccurate.’
Corbyn’s politeness became almost orotund. ‘I thank the prime minister for that answer’ he wheedled before each question. It seems a minor point but these mannerisms slow him down, and more crucially, they surrender a vital asset to his opponent: time to think.
Angus Robertson complained that for each inspector working on tax fraud there are ten working on benefit fraud. Cameron called his figures ‘bogus’ and Robertson’s attempt to retaliate fell to earth with a limp plop. Cameron is blessed with two enemies incapable of improvising on their feet.
Both seem demoralised. And understandably so. Corbyn is hampered by a lifetime in the fantasy far-left where debates are won by whoever outbids the rest in extremism. Intelligent argument and adroit rhetoric never enter that twilight world because gifted politicians shun such forums.
Robertson is clearly in the wrong profession. He should be in aversion therapy. I imagine him working successfully with patients who harm themselves by taking self-denial beyond its natural limits. Such is his air of perma-frosted sanctimony that he could turn the pope into a sex-addict with a tiny sideways flicker of those cold, hooded eyes.
Her Environmental Majesty, Caroline Lucas, wants Cameron to get the cops to bust London law-firms that work for foreign tax-dodgers. She painted a wonderfully lurid picture of sharky solicitors scampering around their offices wiping emails and stuffing incriminating paperwork into the hungry gobs of electronic shredders. Where does she get these facts? And what prevents her from calling the Met herself?
Cameron gave her a lesson in the British constitution. ‘We won’t cross that rubicon,’ he said of her suggestion that the police should operate, as they do in banana republics, like an honour guard of thugs under the personal orders of El Presidente.
A question on autism prompted Cameron to urge us all to see, ‘”The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which, I think, is at the Whitehall Theatre.’ (It’s at the Gielgud.) The Whitehall Theatre has been the Trafalgar Studios since 2004. But the PM hadn’t made an error. No, this shrewd and deliberate misstatement will encourage play-goers to double-check their tickets before leaving home. Another far-sighted measure from our brilliant leader.