British ministers are wealthier than their French counterparts, but we seem to care less
For the first time ever, French ministers have had to make their assets public, as Hollande’s government tries to shake off the scandal caused by former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac.
Cahuzac admitted to having a secret Swiss bank account, which is bad enough in itself, but is made worse by the fact that he is the minister responsible for clamping down on tax-dodging.
French ministers had to make their financial data available by 5pm yesterday, and the whole affair — with mini-scandals erupting over €4,500 designer chairs and €10,000 euro watches — reminded me a little of the expenses scandal, and furores over moats and duck houses.
The big difference, however, is that the expenses scandal was scandalous because MPs were using taxpayers’ money — we care less what politicians do with their own cash. We don’t, for instance, force MPs to publish what they own, only to reveal if their assets could result in conflicts of interest regarding their roles.
Thankfully we’re not totally in the dark about politicians’ wealth. According to estimates released by consultancy Wealth-X in May 2012, the combined wealth of the 29 members of the cabinet was £70 million, and 18 cabinet members were millionaires. David Cameron’s net worth was estimated at £3.8 million.
The richest cabinet minister at the time of the Wealth-X’s research was Lord Strathclyde, who resigned in January, and whose net worth was estimated at £9.5 million.
French ministers appear overall to be less wealthy than ours. Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reported his net worth at around £1.3 million, or a third of what Cameron’s worth — without taking into account the fact that the Camerons are set to inherit a multi-million pound fortune. The richest French minister is worth around £5.13 million.
David Cameron is three times wealthier than the French prime minister
The Wall Street Journal reported a French man joking (I think) that he’s not sure they should let the country be run by people who haven’t ‘fared that well in life.’ Most people will still classify the average French minister as very rich indeed.
Regardless of whether you think French ministers’ wealth is shockingly large or depressingly ordinary, this move to transparency is a controversial one. But as politicians in the UK move towards full transparency when it comes to their citizens' tax affairs and an end to banking secrecy, they should recognise that citizens could (and I’d argue should) demand the same. If taxpayers can no longer hide from the state, ministers of state should no longer expect to hide their assets from taxpayers.