Belfast Telegraph

A smug lack of empathy is Cameron's big sin, not avarice

By Matthew Norman

On the form book of the last few, fiascoid days this is not the highest of hurdles to clear. But the truest thing David Cameron has said of late is that he is, by birth, a very lucky person. The one birthright he was denied, however, was the power of imagination.

So charmed was his early life that he never developed any curiosity about the lives of those less blessed. This is why he tells us he gets it, why he seems at heart quite bemused by the public reaction to the revelations about his father's offshore investments.

Failure of the imagination is one of the more damaging prime ministerial flaws. Margaret Thatcher, having freed herself from the gloom of her background by intellect, hard work and force of will, never understood that others were marooned in theirs for reasons other than indolence and fecklessness.

Now we see Cameron fall victim to this same deficit.

Had Cameron a decent imagination he'd have told his mother to keep the £200,000 she gave him, supposedly to level up her sons' legacies from their father; though more, you suspect despite the ritual Downing Street denial, to minimise David's inheritance tax liability when she joins Ian Cameron in the next life.

Giving such gifts is a legitimate tax-planning manoeuvre. It was Mary Cameron's money. Most people would have done as the Camerons did. But most people are not Prime Minister.

And this story, at root, is not about tax-planning and offshore funds; it is about something more basic. It is the plain, unarguable immorality of a few having so much while most have so little.

Talk of this kind has been wildly out of fashion for almost 40 years, but the pendulum of public opinion is swinging. It is moving towards a more Scandinavian attitude to wealth equality.

The time may have come when you can say that grotesque differentials in pay and riches are unhealthy without being dismissed as a retro-Marxist firebrand.

Cameron, a very clever man, is astonishingly thick when it comes to anticipating how complacent his blithe sense of entitlement makes him appear. Anyone with imagination would have given away the almost-£500,000 he and Samantha have pocketed since 2010 from renting out their Notting Hill home.

Only an emotional dunce would be unable to picture how it looks in the age of the food bank and benefits raids for a wealthy family to profit by an extra £100,000 a year because Joanna and Johnny Taxpayer graciously fund two lavish homes. How much imagination does it take before you give that income to charity?

The sin here is not avarice, but smugness. I do not know David Cameron, but I know the breed. At university, when they were known as Sloanes, I lived with and liked them. They were kind and gentle people, if you'll forgive the generalisation.

Raised in large rural houses, with London flats in Kensington and Knightsbridge, it was not their fault they knew nothing of hardship. As teenagers they had nice cars, went skiing in Klosters for Easter and to Umbrian villas in the summer, held dinner parties and went to balls. Their lives were precise replicas of their parents' lives, only with less-fancy cutlery. The one thing they lacked was any interest in the world beyond their own.

Some of them, friends to this day, developed the curiosity that leads to insight and empathy. Cameron, apparently, did not. That doesn't make him a bad man. And though it may foreshorten his time in office, it isn't a resignation issue. But it does make him a huge disappointment. Ultimately, like one of those characters in Greek myth whose sense of entitlement outraged the gods, his good luck was also his curse.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph