David Cameron was born with so many privileges. The only thing he lacks is an understanding of other people

Had our Prime Minister a decent imagination, he'd have told his mother to keep her £200,000

Matthew Norman
Sunday 10 April 2016 15:01
David Cameron seems surprised by the public's reaction to the revelation he had benefited from an offshore fund before becoming Prime Minister
David Cameron seems surprised by the public's reaction to the revelation he had benefited from an offshore fund before becoming Prime Minister

On the form book of the last few, fiascoid days, this is not the highest of hurdles to clear. But the truest thing David Cameron has said of late is that he is, by birth, a very lucky person.

Of every baby born on earth on October 9, 1966, in material terms, he must have been in the top percentile of the top percentile of the top one one. Recurring. The one birthright he was denied, however, was the power of imagination.

So charmed was his early life that he never developed any curiosity about the lives of those less blessed. This is why he tells us he gets it, why he seems at heart quite bemused by the public reaction to the revelations about his father’s offshore investment event and the family’s tax arrangements.

Failure of the imagination is one of the more damaging prime ministerial flaws. Margaret Thatcher, having freed herself from the gloom of her background by intellect, hard work and force of will, never understood that others were marooned in theirs for other reasons other indolence and fecklessness. Mr Tony Blair lacked the imagination to see that his love of money – how many internal organs would you have removed, without anaesthetic, to see six years of his tax returns? – would make him a malevolent joke in his own country.

Now we see Cameron fall victim to this same deficit. He is neither as callous as Thatcher nor as grasping as Blair. He is not a particularly greedy or uncaring man. But he lacks the imagination to appreciate why those with little or nothing (and those with the empathetic concern he lacks about their plight) are outraged by a man with so much gathering even more. If there is such an unlikely sounding thing as righteous envy, this is it.

Had Cameron a decent imagination, he’d have told his mother to keep the £200, 000 she gave him, supposedly to level up her sons’ legacies from their father; though more, you suspect despite the ritual Downing Street denial, to minimise David’s inheritance tax liability when she joins Ian Cameron in the next life.

Giving such gifts is a legitimate tax planning manouevre. It was Mary Cameron’s money, and she was free to do with it as she chooses. Any accountant would have advised it. Most people would have done as the Camerons did.

But most people are not Prime Minister, and this story at root is not about tax planning and offshore funds. It is about something more basic and more ancient, which enraged Jesus Christ. It is the plain, unarguable immorality of a few having so much - and effortlessly adding to the plenty - while most have so little.

It is not, at root, about equities in the Bahamas, but equity itself.

David Cameron should be questioned by parliament says Jeremy Corbyn

Talk of this kind has been wildly out of fashion for almost 40 years, but the pendulum of public opinion is swinging. It probably won’t swing fast or far enough, in the absence of another horrendous global financial meltdown, to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 Downing Street. But it is moving public opinion towards a more Scandivanian attitude to wealth equality. The time may have come when you can say that grotesque differentials in pay and riches are unhealthy without being dismissed as a retro-Marxist firebrand.

Cameron, a very clever man, is astonishingly thick when it comes to anticipating how complacent his blithe sense of entitlement makes him appear. Anyone with imagination would have given the almost £500,000 he and Samantha have pocketed since 2010 from renting out their Notting Hill home away.

Only an emotional dunce would be unable to picture how it looks, in the age of the food bank and benefits raids, for a wealthy family to profit by an extra £100, 000 a year because Joanna and Johnny Tax-Payer graciously fund two lavish homes. How much imagination does it take before you give that income to charity?

The sin here is not avarice, but smugness. I do not know David Cameron, but I know the breed. At university, when they were known as Sloanes, I lived with and liked them. They were kind and gentle people, if you’ll forgive the generalisation.

Raised in large rural houses, with London flats in Kensington and Knightsbridge, it was not their fault that they knew nothing of hardship. As teenagers, they had nice cars, went skiing in Klojsters for Easter and to Umbrian villas in the summer, held dinner parties and went to balls. Their lives were precise replicas of their parents’ lives, only with less fancy cutlery. The one think they lacked was any interest in the world beyond their own.

Some of them, friends to this day, developed the curiosity that leads to insight and empathy. Cameron apparently did not. That doesn’t make him a bad man. And, though it may foreshorten his time in office, it isn’t a resignation issue. But it does make him a huge disappointment.

Ultimately, like one of those characters in Greek myth whose sense of entitlement outraged the gods, his good luck was also his curse.

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