the Panama Papers
forgive me if you will, but my predominant emotional response to the biggest document leak in history is one of disappointed underwhelm. residing as i do in London, it seems safe to assume that very little is likely to happen here by the way of justice and retribution. i am not entirely without hope — and as pressure continues to mount on Cameron to resign, that hope is growing — but the survival of that hope is largely contingent on the reactions of you: my peers
why so smug?
the natural response for so many has been one of righteous sarcasm along the lines of, “oh, the world’s elite have been hiding money offshore to avoid paying taxes? no shit Sherlock”
of course, nothing of these revelations comes as any sort of shock to anyone who doesn’t reside under a rock. the problem with this reaction, however, is that it tacitly condones the pervasive culture of tax evasion among the world’s rich and wealthy. we all know that this practice goes on, and has done for far too long, so when we learned of Jimmy Carr’s tax ‘avoidance’ — as it was framed at the time to distinguish it from the illegal practice of tax evasion — few were surprised, and we reacted much the same way then as we have done thus far now. what tends to follow the initial stream of smug so whats is:
the flood of satire has begun to flow in full force, like a trusty tap has been opened. in the neoliberal world of multinational oligarchs and their seemingly endless fraudulent forays, the dependable ark to which we cling is laughter. whilst laughter itself is not problematic; laughter by itself is. we need laughter to cope and to balance our emotions, but if we use laughter to supress rightful anger — rather than to temper it — then our sniggers are nothing short of feeble self-indulgence. if we stand by idly as we have done on so many occasions before, leaving the judicial process to the ‘professionals’, then we can rest assured that many guilty parties will not be held to account. we have been gifted an unprecedented opportunity to tackle systems of tax avoidance and money laundering head on, and to let such an opening pass by unexploited would be unforgivable
t.i.n.a. vs Iceland
the almost immediate resignation of Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsso, should come as a surprise to nobody. while other countries across the West were bailing out banks at the expense of taxpayers, under the everpresent Thatcherite mantra of ‘t.i.n.a.’ (there is no alternative), in 2008 the people of Iceland took to the streets and refused to go home until their government had resigned. Iceland also let three banks go into liquidation, and since then 26 bankers have been imprisoned with combined sentences of 74 years. oh and t.i.n.a — if you’re listening — Iceland has not yet returned to the dark ages
so the fact that Gunnlaugsso has resigned so swiftly now is simply the realisation of an inevitable outcome. he could have prolonged the process with denial and the subsequent trials and inquisitions, but ultimately there could only even have been one conclusion; the people of Iceland made that clear 8 years ago — and continue to do so today
and so this is from where my reluctant pessimism emanates. for too many years now, we in Britain have rarely put up any sort of fight against our governments’ wrongdoings. and then, even when we do mount noteworthy opposition, our chin gets exposed as one of frail constitution. when over a million people marched on London in 2003 to voice opposition to Tony Blair’s plans to invade Iraq, it was the first time i ever observed political activism on a national scale. it inspires me to this day that so many people were mobilised to stand up against what they (rightfully) perceived as a war that was at best ill-conceived, and at worst a financially-driven geopolitical manouevre tantamount to empirical genocide. but history burdens me with the knowledge that, little over a month later, the invasion nevertheless went ahead. and so, the million+ people who were there on 15 February 2003, plus the majority of the population on behalf of whom they rallied, all returned to the routines of their lives, disheartened, disillusioned, and — worst of all — dissuaded
mad as hell
the time to get angry, to get loud, and to refuse to retreat is upon us. no longer can we remain resigned to the inevatibily of the status quo — the pervasive inequity of the status quo has been irrevocably exposed, and we cannot afford to settle for anything less than comprehensive reform of taxation on a global scale
and so, naturally, attention duly falls to our delightful prime minister, David Cameron
We will continue to lead the world on tax and transparency
Tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance and tax planning is an important part of our long-term economic plan. We will increase the annual tax charges paid by those with non-domiciled status, ensuring that they make a fair contribution to reducing the deficit, and continue to tackle abuses of this status. We will lead international efforts to ensure global companies pay their fair share in tax, as David Cameron did at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in 2013, which secured significant international progress on fairer tax rules and full transparency over who really owns companies. We will push for all countries to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; review the implementation of the new international country-by-country tax reporting rules and consider the case for making this information publicly available on a multilateral basis. We will ensure developing countries have full access to global automatic tax information exchange systems and continue to build the capacity of tax authorities in developing countries. We are also making it a crime if companies fail to put in place measures to stop economic crime, such as tax evasion, in their organisations and making sure that the penalties are large enough to punish and deter.
Cameron, who was elected on a manifesto which included a pledge to “continue to lead the world on tax and transparency”, and has paraded himself as the world leader of a crusade against tax evasion, finally admitted yesterday — after days of avoidance tactics and denial — to having profited from his father’s offshore trust
i strongly doubt that the extent to which he is implicated in this scandal will end anywhere near there, but even if that were to be the case, there is one revelation above all others that Cameron will struggle to recover from. Heather Stewart, political editor at The Guardian, broke the news on Thursday that Cameron “intervened personally to prevent offshore trusts from being dragged into an EU-wide crackdown on tax avoidance.” In a letter sent in 2013 to then president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy (which is still available on the government’s website), the prime minister argued that trusts (such as the one from which he this week admitted to having profitted) should not be held to the same transparency requirements as companies
whatever else comes to be revealed in the fallout from the Panama Papers leak, as the weeks and months go by, governments around the world will be faced with the monumental task of building a unified global strategy to end the injustice of tax evasion. given our heightened culpability in all of this due to the many tax havens that exist amongst our overseas territories, Britain will necessarily play a leading role in such a campaign. and given that fact, coupled with the revelation that — while publicly pledging to clamp down on tax evasion, the prime minister was privately lobbying to prevent greater transparency which would have sooner revealed what he finally admitted to on Thursday — there is simply no way that David Cameron can remain the leader of the government. he has been actively shielding from public view a major conflict of interest that completely undermines a pledge of the manifesto on which he was elected, and consequently his position as prime minister is no longer tenable
tomorrow, at 11am, join me outside Downing Street in calling for Cameron’s resignation. like our comrades in Iceland in 2008, i will not leave until he has resigned — i hope i can count on you remaining by my side
the thing is — and i say this reluctantly, given the devastation his government has wreaked on communities across the British Isles — i actually feel a degree of sympathy for Cameron. he is in many ways one of a handful of sacrificial lambs being served to deflect attention from those that are most guilty. while there is no denying that Cameron is among the Britain’s wealthiest (and highest earners — his recently released tax information places him on the cusp of the top 1%), he is by no means the head of the snake, and neither is tax avoidance restricted to those who breathe the most rarefied of air. while the PM must not be let off the hook for his duplicity, we must also not allow the media circus around him cause us to lose sight of the real issue here.
postscript: remain critical, suspicious
to be continued…