Panama Papers: How not to deal with it

By John McTernan

When it comes to dealing with revelations from the Panama Papers, David Cameron shows:
The week just kept getting worse for David Cameron. Photo / AP
The week just kept getting worse for David Cameron. Photo / AP

In life, you get only one chance to make a first impression. In politics, you get only one chance to make a full and frank disclosure. In and of themselves, the facts do not set you free - it is the handling that matters more than anything else.

The case of British Prime Minister David Cameron and his father's company Blairmore, with its offshore holdings, has been a textbook example of how not to do it. In the course of five days and four statements Cameron's position has gone from the stonewalling ("[it's] a private matter") to an admission that he had held shares in Blairmore but sold them shortly before becoming Prime Minister.

It has been the most humiliating process. At each stage Cameron has offered answers that, far from closing down the issue, just open a further line of questioning. Take Thursday's statement: "There are no offshore funds/trusts which the PM, Mrs Cameron or their children will benefit from in future." You don't need a PhD in hermeneutics to realise that the key word in that sentence is "future".

Politicians in the middle of a firestorm that combines the personal and the political need a cool head and if they, understandably, don't have one, they need one to be provided by their most senior and trusted advisers. This has clearly not happened here.

Cameron should have been asked three questions by his team. First, what are the full facts? Second, what will unavoidably come out? Third, what are we going to say? What is the account that minimises personal and political exposure while being full enough to be made only once?

Did Cameron feel that there was something questionable about his holdings in Blairmore? Why else would he sell his stake in January 2010? Given that the PM knew his own actions in relation to his Dad's firm - and his own motivations - he either didn't tell his staff the truth or they colluded in this appalling mishandling.

And there are still more questions. Why, for example, does Cameron not declare his stake in Blairmore in the Register of Members' Financial Interests for 2009-10? There may be a technical answer - their size and scale were below the level which required registration - but as the Parliament website says: "The main purpose of the Register is to provide information about any financial interest which a Member has, or any benefit which he or she receives, which others might reasonably consider to influence his or her actions or words as a Member of Parliament." Ordinary voters may well have considered that owning a stake in an offshore company that minimised tax was something they might reasonably consider influenced the words and actions of the Leader of the Opposition and his party's policies.

This is not over yet.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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