According to YouGov, David Cameron’s approval rating has shifted from -25 to -18 over the period of the recent tax avoidance story. This improvement flies in the face of the media view that Cameron would suffer the charge of hypocrisy for condemning Jimmy Carr, when so many Tory donors are guilty of the same.
It now seems that Cameron was in touch with the public mood. The media taunts on Cameron’s hypocrisy have served little other than to highlight the Prime Minister’s intervention, while swatting Ed Miliband into the shadows and out of public glare. The crackdown on tax avoidance is now a Tory issue to be grabbed, while Miliband has so far been uninspired on a territory that the public would expect to be owned by Labour.
It was only a short time ago that Cameron hired tax dodger Phillip Green to give advice on how to streamline the civil service. Yet as avoidance has crept up the agenda, Labour has had nothing to say. Is this why the public have spared judgement on a whopping Tory U-Turn? Is it that a major issue of public concern has so completely passed the Labour Party by, that the Conservatives can grab it, and be forgiven for past misdemeanours?
If so, we’re in trouble. Imagine trying to win an election in a world where the Tories are viewed as the party of responsible tax payers, while Labour are the incompetents with a history of creating tax loop holes that allow wealthy cheats to pay nothing.
It all seemed to be going so well last week. Ed Miliband made a well-received speech on immigration that highlighted the way that eastern Europeans push down wages for the ordinary British people. The speech hardly sparked the public’s imagination, but his stature was enhanced to those who shape the opinions of others.
Yet it is less impressive when compared to the actions of David Cameron. His response to the question on Jimmy Carr, avoiding tax by rebadging his income as a loan, was to describe Carr as “immoral”. This was not thought-through or carefully crafted. However, it was what everyone else was thinking.
Arguably, it took 18 months for Miliband to forge a position on immigration, only to be heard by the few, but it takes a flash of instinct for Cameron to forge a position on tax avoidance, and everyone sits up and agrees.
It’s as if Ed Miliband doesn’t know how to turn up the volume. The natural response to Cameron calling a tax dodger “immoral” is for Miliband to call for him to be arrested. This is not a race to the bottom; it’s a race to the headline, and if Cameron can dominate Miliband on this one, then he can dominate on more. If he can dominate on more, then he can win the next election with a clear majority.
We should be worried. Very worried.