A moral tale

In PR terms it’s not been a good week for David Cameron. The whole week has been about his involvement in offshore investments and whether he has benefited from any such investments.

Slowly, bit by bit, the story has been dragged out of Downing Street, culminating with the Prime Minister’s publication of his tax returns.

Could it all have been handled better? The PM certainly thinks so and blames no-one, but himself.

The real issue that Mr Cameron is facing, however, is not one of whether or not he has made a few bob abroad or even if he avoided some tax on the way. It’s about hypocrisy.

Remember the Jimmy Carr tax affair back in 2012? At the time, David Cameron singled out the comedian as being ‘morally wrong’ to try to avoid tax in such a way (his Chancellor, George Osborne was reported to have used the stronger description of ‘morally repugnant’).

Almost four years later, David Cameron’s comment at the time has come back to bite him and is the real root of his current troubles. And the reality is that it all stems from the use of the word ‘moral’.

Accusing someone of having morals that are not up to your standards puts you right up there on a pedestal, ready to be knocked off and with a long way to fall if there is any suggestion that your own morals might be lacking.

Not only do you need to be whiter than white, you need to be seen to be whiter than white.

As more information about David Cameron’s offshore financial activity comes out, it's being argued in some quarters that there may not have been a tax advantage in the fund he invested in.

However, even if it is true that he wasn’t gaining, or seeking to gain, a tax advantage, in PR terms it doesn’t really matter.

Much of the population is just hearing the word ‘offshore’, which is, in many people’s minds, inextricably linked to tax avoidance. Morally wrong? Guilty.

The court of public opinion delivers its verdict much more quickly than you might expect of our sometimes maligned, but probably well-respected, legal system. And the PR court doesn’t always find it necessary to hear all of the facts.

The two facts that public opinion has latched on to are that the Prime Minister used the words ‘morally wrong’ and then appeared to be ‘morally wrong’ himself by investing in an offshore fund/vehicle/tax avoidance scheme (it doesn’t really matter, it’s offshore). Hypocrite. Bang the gavel.

The moral of the tale? Exactly.

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