Britain not laughing at comedian's tax "scam"

Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:57am EDT
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Trailing in the polls and under fire over painful austerity measures, British Prime Minister David Cameron has struck a populist tone with an attack on rich celebrities who aggressively avoid paying tax.

The Conservative leader, often derided as a wealthy figure adrift from the economic hardship faced by many Britons, weighed into a row over the tax affairs of a top comedian, branding his tax avoidance "morally wrong".

With Britain in recession, Cameron's move may play well with voters hit by higher taxes and public spending cuts, but it drew charges of hypocrisy from opposition Labour Party members and could expose the Conservatives' finances to greater scrutiny.

The Conservatives' former deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft was embroiled in a long-running row about his tax status and the government has been accused of overseeing a system that has been soft on big companies' tax bills.

Cameron angered the French government this week by promising to "roll out the red carpet" for French companies if President Francois Hollande raises taxes for the rich.

Asked about a legal offshore tax scheme that allowed comic Jimmy Carr and hundreds of others to slash their income tax as low as a reported one percent, Cameron said: "It is not fair on hard-working people who do the right thing and pay their taxes to see these sort of scams taking place."

The Conservatives trail Labour by 14 points, according to a poll on Sunday, after an unpopular March budget that cut income tax for the richest and raised rates for the elderly.

"TERRIBLE ERROR"   Continued...

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech during a dinner with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City June 20, 2012. REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya