When I interviewed David Cameron just before the election in 2010, there was one question that nobody else had asked him, because it was a bit unorthodox. It also seemed to me to be self evident. He was clearly a very rich man who stood to inherit a great deal more, but he was also talking about wanting to unite Britain and make it a fairer place, so why not do something that would demonstrate his sincerity? Why not waive his salary if he became Prime Minister? He could give it to charity. (Wiser heads than mine say it would have been political suicide, establishing him there and then as not the ordinary bloke he was making himself out to be, but I thought it was interesting to ask anyway.) Mention of his wealth rattled him.
We now know a little more about why, as seen in the current fuss and a story here by the Mail on Sunday detailing the Cameron family money. Dave says he is not currently benefitting from any offshore trust, but as the piece says, that does not apply to any wealth held by his mother. His father was a successful broker and the legacy detailed in his will revealed only assets registered in the UK, we’re told. So where’s the rest of the money, Dave?
None of us would be surprised if the tap that he turned off by divesting himself of shares when it looked likely he was going to achieve political power suddenly started to flow again once he has had his time in office, whether through his mother’s wealth or assets his father had registered overseas that we don’t currently know about. By then, as we have found with Tony Blair, only a relative few people will care if he becomes properly, filthy rich. Indeed, as a Conservative former Prime Minister, that will almost be expected.
This is a curious story, because Mr Cameron is under attack for a situation that is not on the face of illegal. Unfortunately, as Fraser Nelson said on Radio 4 this morning, this man who has done nothing wrong appears to be behaving with the evasiveness of Al Capone.
It does, of course, contrast sharply with his own public statements on tax. And it brings home the impression that he is too rich and too comfortable to really understand what the rest of us need from a leader (as can also be said of George and Boris, come to that). It may explain why he was rattled back in 2010 when this exchange happened in my interview for Live, the predecessor to Event, the magazine of the Mail on Sunday:
Their joint family wealth as a couple has been estimated at £30 million.
‘It’s guesswork. Unbelievable. It’s extraordinary. Look, we own a very nice house in London, and a house in the constituency on which we have a mortgage. Other than that we both earn good money and we have some savings. But I don’t want to give you a figure because that will be blasted all over the papers. You know where I work. You know my salary. It’s all public. I don’t have any outside earnings. I am very happy for anyone to do the maths.’
Let’s do that, then…
The house in north Kensington is worth about £2 million and is mortgage-free. The one in Witney, Oxfordshire, would sell for about £1 million. He earns £131,000 a year plus allowances as Leader of the Opposition, and Samantha is thought to earn about three times that as creative director of Smythson. Even with a very conservative estimate of savings, stocks and shares, their worth must exceed £4 million (before any inheritances).
They will never have to worry about not having enough money for food or a roof over their head – so why should the taxes of those who do have such worries be used to pay the mortgage interest on this multi-millionaire’s second home?
‘Because as an MP you need to live in two places, and there is an expenses system for that. By the way, I caused future prime ministers, whoever they may be, not to be able to claim income on a second home. That was my act, I said it needed to happen.’
Wouldn’t it be a grand, healing gesture – and a vote winner – if he offered to serve as Prime Minister without pay?
‘I couldn’t actually.’
He’s joking, surely? ‘No. I have a salary as an MP. But I don’t have any other income.’
He has now, including the rental income from his home in Shepherds Bush, as the information (emphatically not his tax returns but a summary of information from them) he has released shows, but that may be considered fair enough. It may also be all he has available to him at the moment but will the situation change in the future? Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, Dave the man of the people looks more than ever like David, a super privileged member of the one per cent. Maybe that’s what we want in a leader, I don’t know. It’s certainly what we’ve got.