Ian Monk: PM should steer clear of morality

It is a moot point as to who came off worse in the Carr crash caused by comedian Jimmy's tax affairs.

Ian Monk: PM should steer clear of morality
Ian Monk: PM should steer clear of morality

Indeed, it may be some time until the jokes and spin have subsided, making it possible to assess the long-term reputational injuries sustained by the protagonists.

The head-on smash was between Carr and David Cameron. Carr paid a pittance in tax on his £3m annual earnings and Cameron condemned this as 'morally wrong'.

This sound bite was, at best, tactical rather than strategic. Since when has it been the Prime Minister's business to pronounce on an individual's tax affairs?

And which strategically minded spin doctor would ever advocate putting morality at the centre of policy-making after the fiasco of the Major government's 'back to basics'? That slogan fell into ridicule as a procession of Tory ministers were caught with their trousers down or with their hands in various tills.

Similarly, Cameron's headline-grabbing phrase will inevitably be flung back at him a thousand times as the media declare open season on every Tory's tax affairs.

Until Cameron's intervention, Carr stood defiant, stating that he paid all the tax he had to. Immediately after it, on sound advice from Gary Farrow, he caved in and admitted 'a terrible error of judgement', pledging to conduct his fiscal affairs more responsibly in future. It was a smart and well-timed apology.

Highly successful too in PR terms was leaking, pre-transmission, to The Sun the jokes made at Carr's expense on his Eight Out of Ten Cats show. Front-page laughter was the best medicine for Carr's fans.

Carr, though, will need all of his odd sense of humour going forward. His PR strategy so far has been more successful than the PM's.

But it will be challenging for him to laugh off future questions about how much tax he is paying. Or how much backdated tax he coughs up, either voluntarily or compulsorily.

Carr knows the joke is on him. It will be interesting to see whether he manages to script the last laugh.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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