One measure of the extent to which the Conservative Party can hold together during and after the EU referendum is whether enmities and divisions spread into unrelated matters. The willingness of Eurosceptic Ministers and Tory backbenchers to defend David Cameron over his tax arrangements is thus a positive sign.
The Sun this morning reports:
“WARRING Tory ministers paused hostilities in the Brexit battle to rally round David Cameron over his tax troubles.
“Eurosceptic ministers Chris Grayling, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Julian Brazier all rallied round the PM amid an increasingly hysterical reaction from Labour – including calls for him to go to jail.”
Chris Grayling, Leader of the House of Commons said:
“The Prime Minister paid full UK tax on this investment. He clearly did nothing wrong.
“Unlike Labour this Government has taken tough action against tax avoidance and evasion. Our record in this area speaks for itself, we have made significant progress and should be judged on that.
“The ridiculous nature of Labour’s baseless attacks are yet more evidence that they are no longer a serious political party.”
Dominic Raab, Justice Minister, condemned Labour’s “vicious personal attacks”. Julian Brazier, a Defence Minister, added that “the way he has been harassed about this has been really quite unfair”. While Priti Patel, the Employment Minister, said: “David Cameron has taken significant action to tackle tax avoidance.” And so on.
This was in a week where Conservative Eurosceptics faced maximum provocation from Cameron due to the spending of £9.3 million of taxpayers money on a pro EU booklet to every voter. This means that if we vote to remain in the EU it will be harder to “move on” with acceptance that the issue was resolved in a fair way.
As Dan Hannan puts it this morning in the Daily Telegraph:
“Until this week, no one could accuse David Cameron of trying to rig the referendum. He accepted the Electoral Commission’s wording for the ballot paper. He didn’t try to extend the vote to teenagers or EU nationals. He kept the Conservative Party neutral, allowing its employees and his ministers to campaign on either side. Like most Leave supporters, I was glad to acknowledge his even-handedness, and grateful to him for decreeing the vote in the first place.
“Suddenly, though, the level playing field is bucking and tilting under our feet.”
Using taxpayer’s money in this way not only offends democratic principles but is foolish on practical grounds. If the Remain side wins then it robs their victory of legitimacy. Perversely, it may actually lead to such an outcome being less likely given the British sense of fair play and resistance to being told by the Government what to do.
Yet while indignation over the EU booklet has been strong, it has been focussed. It has not broadened out into a wider attack on Cameron or the Government.
So in Party management terms the strains over the EU referendum could be much worse. The dishonesty and hypocrisy from Leftists over the offshore tax saga has prompted Conservatives to close ranks.
Winning over public opinion is another matter. We have drifted into a mood where someone’s moral worth increases in proportion to the share of their income that they pay in tax. The rules have become so complicated that obeying the law is considered insufficient. George Osborne’s staggering failure to honour his pledge to simplify the system has made the situation much worse.
But is it really morally superior to hand over more money to the state than is legally required? Is that more moral than minimising tax to provide for your family? Or to increase wages for your employees? Or to fund the expansion of a business and thus create more jobs? Or to donate more money to charity?
There is more to defeating socialism than winning elections for the Conservative Party. Many regard tax increases as a good idea for anyone who happens to be earning more than they are. We need a culture that accepts wealth and success and regards the incentive of the profit motive as vital to the prosperity of us all. Thus far too many Conservatives are afraid to even make that case.