Cameron on tax morals: Right?

June 29, 2012, 4:07 PM GMT+0

50% Brits say PM wrong to condemn Carr, 38% say right; yet most agree with gist of PM statement

Half of Britons say top politicians should not comment on individuals' behaviour if they are acting within the law, our poll has found in light of Prime Minister David Cameron's labelling of comedian Jimmy Carr's alleged tax evasion as 'morally wrong' last week.

However, our poll questions on the issue of tax avoidance suggest that the public agrees with the sentiments behind the Prime Minister's comment, even while condemning his individual attack on Carr.

  • 50% say the Prime Minister was wrong to condemn Jimmy Carr, because top politicians should not attack individual citizens who stay within the law
  • 38% think the Prime Minister was right to criticise, because top politicians should concern themselves with morality, not just laws
  • 12% aren't sure

However, despite this this, it seems the majority of the public agrees with the sentiments behind the Prime Minister's statement.

  • 67% say tax avoidance is morally at least as bad as, or worse than, cheating to obtain welfare benefits (26% disagree)
  • 60% say rich people who avoid tax legally are acting 'unreasonably' and have 'a moral duty to pay their fair share of tax and not use tax avoidance schemes', compared to 36% who think legal tax avoidance is 'reasonable' as 'it's the government's job to pass stricter laws if they want the rich to pay more tax'
  • Less than half (49%) say HM Revenue and Customs is doing 'all it can to crack down on tax avoiders', with 41% saying that HMRC isn't doing enough

"Morally wrong"

Stand-up and TV presenter Carr has admitted to reducing his tax bill (reportedly to as little as 1%) by sheltering millions in a Jersey trust. Despite this behaviour being legal and, allegedly common among high-earners, Cameron described the situation as 'morally wrong', while Carr himself admitted an 'error of judgement' and apologised over microblogging site Twitter.

Speaking to ITV, Cameron also argued that "people work hard, they pay their taxes, and they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes.”

The Prime Minister has since faced scrutiny for his public indictment of the comedian, amid accusations that corporations, as well as members of the cabinet and Tory donors, may have benefited from tax avoidance schemes similar to that which Cameron has condemned.


Some notable economists have warned that it is "very unwise" of very politicians to condemn someone’s morals in this field when it is likely they or their colleagues ‒ and, it is alleged, Cameron’s own father-in-law, Viscount Astor ‒ have benefited from similarly efficient tax schemes.

Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, while focusing much blame on accountants and lawyers who facilitate the tax avoidance schemes, further points out what he sees as the hypocrisy that exists within the Conservative Party when their leader criticises tax avoidance.

Cabinet colleagues of the Prime Minister who have been accused of avoiding tax include Andrew Mitchell, Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt and the Chancellor George Osborne.

Other commentators have questioned the Prime Minister's statement, emphasising that as Carr simply hired an accountant, and was acting entirely legally, so his actions didn't require comment.

However, while of the view that Cameron's statement was hypocritical, journalist Simon Jenkins has also pointed out that politicians are best placed to stop people using these schemes.

“Tax dodgers protest they are ‘doing nothing illegal’‒ but no such let-out is available to politicians, who are the arbiters of legality,” writes Jenkins. “They may excoriate tax avoidance, but they are the only people in a position to stop it,” he argues.

See the survey details and full results (pages 7-11)