It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in politics and the media. Following the Panama Papers scandal and Cameron’s subsequent bungled reaction, we saw hundreds protest outside Downing Street calling for the PM’s resignation. Meanwhile, the right-wing media attempted to bite back: the Metro ran a front-page headline on ‘Corbyn the tax dodger’ (referring to the fact that Corbyn paid a £100 fee for filing his tax return five days late, rather than avoiding any tax at all.) The Telegraph ran a story accusing Corbyn of receiving £3 million from the state, also known as his salary for his 33 years’ work as a Member of Parliament. The Sun even tried to suggest that the Labour leader had purposely failed to reveal earnings from a lecture he once delivered. The truth was a little different – as it turns out, Jeremy Corbyn actually paid more tax than he should have.
Today’s encounter saw Corbyn bite back. When the Prime Minister mocked the Labour leader’s tax return, referring to it as ‘late, chaotic and uncosted’, Corbyn was quick to note that he had paid ‘more tax than some companies owned by people the Prime Minister knows quite well’. The ‘one rule for the rich and one rule for the rest’ line appears to be sticking.
While humour found its way into the house in places, Corbyn remained serious on the issues. Asking simple questions that people want answered was an effective method of reducing the complexity of the tax scandal to understandable terms. Why did Tory members of the European Parliament vote against proposals to close tax loopholes and ensure that we knew who was part of such schemes? Why is the Government laying off hundreds of HMRC staff at a time when we are trying to crack down on tax avoidance? Why is Cameron refusing to get tough on Jersey and the Cayman Islands, who have refused to open up their books to scrutiny?
These were all rather simple questions that the Prime Minister failed to answer. Cameron decided to focus on the jokes rather than the substance, possibly because to focus on the substance would only be to shed more light on his embarrassing handling of the scandal itself.
Perhaps it is also because the Prime Minister knows the Labour leader is right. On HMRC job losses, the Government’s own report makes clear that the workforce is being cut by 20 per cent. It is also impossible to hide the briefing given to Tory MEPs instructing them to vote against EU proposals on tax avoidance. Lying about that would be a career-ending move.
So while jokes were thrown about the house, there is nothing funny about what is really going on. The establishment is wary of Jeremy Corbyn – and when the Tory mask slips and he’s presented with a clear advantage, the right-wing media attacks come thick and fast. The real people of Britain, however, have failed to be amused by his antics. And perhaps even his own party has had enough of Cameron: the Daily Mirror’s Ben Glaze pointed out on Twitter that “unusually” there were “no cheers from Tory backbenchers” as Cameron slipped into the Commons chamber for PMQs.
It’s time our Prime Minister put on a straight face and gave us some straight answers about tax and aspiration, rather than reacting with a series of rhetoric-driven pre-written jokes. He is, after all, the leader of our country and not a comedian.
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