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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: David Cameron can be choosy about who he invites to dinner


Most people are all too aware of the breathtaking successs of companies like Amazon and Google in keeping their vast profits out of the hands of governments across the planet. But the Prime Minister may have been a shade optimistic during his Commons statement on the G8 summit in saying that while the “tax and transparency” issues as discussed at Loch Erne used to be the province of academics, they are now “kitchen table subjects”

As in: “I really like these new central registries of beneficial ownership. Pass the salt please.”

“Is this high-level international tax tool David Cameron keeps talking about what I think it is?”

“Don’t be cheeky son. And don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s what the OECD will be using to tackle base erosion and profit shifting. Along with the transformative Open Data Charter. My, these parsnips are good.”

Nevertheless Cameron drew support from Labour’s Barry Sheerman who reassured him that “my constituents and people around the world will be positive about much that has come out of the G8 conference, although the hard-headed and cynical press are always ready to say it is pie in the sky”.

Fair enough. But this was not enough to dispel widespread worries about Syria. The tone was set by the venerable Tory Sir Peter Tapsell who pointed out that he had first visited the country when he was 19. Which, for the record, puts him there in 1949, the year of a – probably CIA-enabled – military coup. Sir Peter wanted Mr Assad invited to the Geneva peace conference along with “a representative of the new Iranian government, who need to be brought back into the comity of nations”.

While this was echoed by backbenchers on both sides of the Commons, Cameron showed no sign of agreeing. And he was less cast-iron than William Hague had seemed to be in promising a Commons vote before any such intervention. He agreed with Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard – virtually the sole wholehearted Cameron supporter on Syria to speak – that “we have to reserve the ability to take action swiftly.”

Ed Miliband insisted that we “did not witness the long-hoped-for breakthrough on Syria at the G8 summit”.

At one point, discussing taxation of “audio-visual services”, Cameron remarked that there had been talk in Enniskillen “of which member of the G8 liked what French film”. So which one, it was tempting to ask, at the risk of being “hard-headed and cynical”, encapsulated the summit? Renoir’s La Grande Illusion perhaps?