UK Politics

William Hague: Don't judge politicians solely on their finances

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Media captionWilliam Hague: Churchill's finances are harder to defend than Cameron's

Parliament would be "one dimensional" if made up only of people with the "simplest possible" finances, former Tory leader William Hague has said.

As politicians publish their tax records, Mr Hague said great leaders were not always "perfect or normal", citing the likes of Churchill and Pitt.

Greater transparency was here to stay, he told the BBC, but it needs to be matched by a maturity of public debate.

His comments come after a row over the prime minister's financial affairs.

David Cameron took the unprecedented step of releasing a summary of his tax return last week, following days of questions and speculation about his financial affairs after revelations about his holding in his late father's offshore fund.

Chancellor George Osborne, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Boris Johnson became the latest senior British politicians to publish details of their tax returns on Monday.

Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "we live in an age of greater transparency" and "the answer is not to fight that age, it has arrived and it will come all the more".

But he said a "mature acceptance" was needed by the public that someone's personal finances will not necessarily determine their leadership abilities.

"The consequence of greater transparency in tax, in medical records whatever else it may be among leaders is that there has to be a maturity in the public debate about those things and a recognition that the circumstances and habits of people who are effective leaders will vary greatly.

"And that those personal circumstances are not necessarily a good guide to how good they will be as a prime minister, a chancellor or anything else," he said.

The BBC's Norman Smith on media coverage of the row

Image copyright AFP

Downing Street have accused the media of fuelling the "frenzy over tax" surrounding the prime minister's financial affairs.

Sources have criticised the media for "misreporting" Mr Cameron's tax arrangements.

A No 10 source acknowledged Downing Street had made mistakes but said the row had also been driven by the "explosive claim" that Mr Cameron's late father's offshore fund - Blairmore - had been set up to avoid tax.

The source said: "For a number of days the media wrongly gave the clear impression that Blairmore was set up so people could avoid tax - an explosive claim that fuelled the furore.

"It was only the sheer weight of expert opinion saying this was nonsense that eventually demolished this claim. The media's misreporting of Blairmore's 'tax avoidance' contributed to last week's frenzy over tax."

Privately figures in Downing Street are particularly critical of the BBC over its coverage - and claim the corporation too easily allowed critics to suggest Mr Cameron was engaged in tax avoidance.

Mr Hague said previous leaders, such as William Pitt the Younger, had "chaotic personal finances" but were "brilliant at handling the nation's finances".

And he added: "We've had leaders who had tax returns like (Winston) Churchill that would have been more difficult to defend in public than Prime Minister David Cameron's tax returns - but Churchill was the greatest leader of modern times.

"So we're going to have to bear those things in mind and not expect everybody to be perfect or everybody to be normal."

He said suggested increased transparency should be tested in "careful stages" rather than forcing all MPs to publish their tax returns.

Politicians' taxes: who's published what?

More details of tax disclosures

He warned: "If Parliament consisted of people who had the simplest possible personal finances, perhaps all having come through the public sector with no questions of business ownership or dividends... then you would have a very one dimensional Parliament."

The prime minister released a summary of earnings and tax going back six years after being accused by Labour of misleading the public over money he had invested in his father Ian Cameron's company, Blairmore Holdings.

David Cameron is currently chairing the first Cabinet meeting since the row erupted, having robustly defended his conduct and that of his father in the Commons on Monday.

But Labour is continuing to press him to publish his full tax returns dating back to before he became prime minister and are questioning why the original investment was not disclosed in the register of MPs' interests.

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