Leading article: The corrosive Tory infatuation with wealthy businessmen

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron has changed the Conservative Party in numerous ways.

But what the Tory leader has not reformed, nor shown any inclination to reform, is his party's relations with rich businessmen who have a questionable attitude to paying tax in Britain. Mr Cameron, notoriously, put the non-domiciled billionaire Lord Ashcroft in charge of his party's marginal constituency-targeting strategy at the last election (although the peer has since become a full British resident, enabling him to retain his seat in the House of Lords).

More recently, the Tory leader offered David Rowland, the property magnate and former tax exile of 40 years, the post of Conservative Party treasurer (a job the businessman turned down this week after attracting negative publicity). And it is not just in the Conservative Party that Mr Cameron seems keen on appointing wealthy businessmen. He has brought them into Government too. The retail tycoon Sir Philip Green, who transferred £1.2bn from his UK business to his Monaco-based wife in 2005, has been appointed by Mr Cameron to advise Whitehall on cutting waste. Such cosy relationships between Mr Cameron and controversial wealthy businessmen are unwise for a number of reasons. First, it is politically destabilising. The appointment of Sir Philip has been embarrassing for the Tories' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, who have always taken a strict attitude to full payment of tax in the UK by the wealthy. Whatever contribution the Topshop boss makes to cutting waste, it is unlikely to compensate for the political damage his appointment has already generated.

These relationships are also unwise strategically for Mr Cameron and the Government. It seems increasingly likely that the middle-class welfare state (payments such as universal child benefits and free bus passes for all pensioners) is going to be curtailed as part of the public economy drive. But while savings are being sought in most areas, when it comes to tax avoidance by the wealthy the signs seem to be pointing in the other direction. The permanent secretary for tax at Revenue & Customs told a newspaper this week that it will henceforth be adopting a less combative approach in company tax disputes as part of the Government's campaign to show that Britain is "open for business".

Mr Cameron and George Osborne tell us that, when it comes to restoring the public finances to health, "we are all in this together". But while benefit cheats are (rightly) castigated, the same attitude does not apply to the super-rich and their tax affairs. As the welfare state is ruthlessly pruned, the corporate welfare state is left intact. It would seem that there is one rule for the super-rich and another for everyone else.

We need to reform the financing of our politics so that political parties are not reliant on individuals such as Lord Ashcroft and Mr Rowland for donations and fundraising. And though the Conservatives are particularly inclined to rely on the generosity of rich men, this is a problem common to all three of the main parties. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have had problems with wealthy donors in recent years. Breaking this unhealthy dependency will require political leadership. Yet, sadly, Mr Cameron's behaviour is marking him out as part of the problem rather than the solution.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone