David Cameron attempted the balancing act yesterday of wooing the world’s most powerful bankers while assuring Middle England that he would not give that most hated profession too easy a time.
Speaking to a gathering of top financiers, the Conservative leader told them: “My father was a stockbroker, my grandfather was a stockbroker, my great-grandfather was a stockbroker.” The City, he assured them, was in his blood. Those present, who included Bob Diamond, president of Barclays, and Richard Gnodde, the co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs in London, purred their approval.
The Times report suggests it was an exercise in characteristic Cameron ambiguity, and not one which did much to answer the same newspaper's challenge yesterday - "David Cameron has yet to answer a basic question: what does he stand for?"
The taxation system should not, in normal times, discriminate against people, including bankers, Mr Cameron said, briefly raising hope among the assembled plutocrats that the levy could be seen off. “But these are not normal times,” he went on. “Taxpayers feel genuinely outraged about the level of bonuses being paid.”
Perhaps more significantly in the long-term, there is an intriguing endorsement of the idea of flatter (ie less progressive) taxes and - with this audience at least - he has identified his guru not as Polly Toynbee but as Nigel Lawson.
he added, he was in favour of flatter taxes. “I’m a Lawsonian, basically,” he said, Under Nigel Lawson’s Chancellorship, income tax was cut and other taxes were simplified, but some indirect taxes went up.
But the result, as we've recently written to Dave to point out, was massive redistribution to help those at the top while regressive taxes like VAT went up.
That Lawsonian approach did not reverse, but instead contributed to, stark increases in poverty and inequality, which Dave is famously against.
So no doubt Mr Cameron will one day get back to us about how he plans to combine Lawsonian economics with meeting his commitment to test all policy by its impact on the worst off.
It would be very good if he could show that those of his Conservative colleagues who seem sadly cynical about this commitment are wrong.