Offshore castaways

This blog often comments on big stories stories after the news cycle has moved on to the next big headline. You may say that is because I’m slow to react to events, but I’d like to think it’s because I have been ruminating on the major happenings and the meaning behind them. What’s more, I might even be valiantly striking back against short attention spans, and giving issues the extra consideration that should be accorded to them. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. And so to the Panama Papers, and the inadequacy of how they have been covered. Watching the travails of David Cameron over recent weeks is to be reminded of how the British media is most comfortable discussing the careers of middle aged men. The vast conspiracy of the super rich against the rest of us, which the Mossack Fonseca leak probably no more than hints at, seemed for most news sources of secondary interest to the personal financial arrangements of the Prime Minister.

I hold no brief for Dave, I should point out, even though I don’t find his personal tax affairs especially egregious when considered on their own. Though I would refrain from the chutzpah of a Daily Mail style defence that describes how it is “perfectly natural” for people to want to provide for their children, a claim usually weakened as it is accompanied by the implication that privileged people (like the Camerons, say) with valuable estates are regular middle class folks (like average Daily Mail readers, say), when plainly they are not. One doesn’t have to be a genius to see how this is part of the usual game of right wing bluff to get people to accept the policy preferences of the rich as also being in their own interest.

However, I am more interested in what Cameron does as Prime Minister about the offshore financial system, as it is so evidently an affront to democratic decency, particularly as so many of those who flagrantly avoid tax seek to influence how the societies they have put themselves outside are governed. And a British premier has a particular responsibility here, given how the UK has done so much to facilitate the rise of this legalised form of banditry that is mostly accessible only to those with great wealth to begin with. The Panama Papers, even though they are hardly shocking in what they tell us, are significant because they provide actionable evidence of what tax havens do. I am not interested in embarrassing the Prime Minister if it leads to us taking our eye off the bigger democratic prize, which is the abolition of tax havens.

Considering the wider picture, while it’s understandable to want to defenestrate Dave, if only because of the free rein he has given his egregious chancellor, we probably need to keep him in the game a little bit longer. If he is too personally damaged by this affair, then it makes it harder for him to win the EU referendum in June. While I appreciate that there are systemic flaws in the EU, and that it might not even be possible for it to be rehabilitated such that it can become a truly democratic institution in its current form, it is also increasingly apparent that the Brexit camp is dominated by people who would dismantle the good things that Europe has done. Britain would become a brave new land for those without the means to support themselves in the neoliberal fantasyland envisaged by the likes of Boris and Nigel and those they serve.

And in the context of offshore, while the Remain camp has plenty of people who are suspect on this issue, those dominating the Brexit camp are probably also more likely to be in hock to those interests who like the current system just as it is. The global mood is turning against tax havens, however. While there are arguments to be made about the complexity of global finance, and the need to channel capital where it is needed that necessitates a certain amount of free movement, that still doesn’t necessitate a system that undermines, nay, cheats national treasuries. If and when reform is imposed on Britain, it might suit them better to enter these negotiations within the EU than without. So let’s help Dave out for the next two months, and then assiduously force the change that he has been dragging his heels on ever since taking office.


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