This week it’s one year since I went self employed and I’ve been struggling to get my wee head around registering for tax as a self-employed ranter, after having made sure that I’ve got enough built up in my savings account to pay the inevitable tax bill when it arrives. Little people, like a self-employed plumber, the windae cleaner, or a ranty blogger, get hammered by the tax authorities if we don’t pay our taxes. That’s how it should be. I don’t want or expect a free pass, I want to pay my dues. Blogging doesn’t make you rich but I can support myself so it’s right and proper to pay tax on earnings. It’s all wrapped up in a dose of paranoia because I’ve never had to do this before and I know I’ll get gubbed if it’s done wrongly. And there was me feeling guilty because I save up my loose change and stash it away to help pay for holidays.
That’s not how it works if you’re rich though. Mossack Fonseca may sound like a tooth-challenged guest on the Jerry Springer show who’s asking for a DNA test because she doesn’t know which of three imprisoned crack addicts are the father of her child, but it’s nothing like as classy as that. It’s a Panamanian law company which helps the rich hide their wealth behind a smokescreen of front companies. It costs the public purse a lot of money so the rich can have more bling, and it looks really cheap.
If you’re rich you can set up an offshore company in Panama or a British overseas territory and avoid paying your dues. You can create an opaque network of holding companies through the Cayman Islands or Jersey and make it impossible for the authorities to track down your money. You can play the shell game with shell companies and cheat your way into even greater wealth. Then you can lobby right wing governments demanding that the rich need to be incentivised to create wealth, which is the euphemism they use for creaming off the cash created by the people who do the real work and then stashing it in an overseas tax haven.
And then the rich close down the manufacturing companies claiming it’s a rationalisation measure and rationalise thousands out of work. Making the little people poor helps to pay for another luxury yacht, another Highland estate, another penthouse pad in London. Davie Cameron’s pals can go on another shopping spree in a Caribbean estate agents. Doesn’t that make you feel better as you lie awake at night worrying about how you’re going to pay your electricity bill?
This latest scandal of the wealthy pilfering from the public might be called the Panama papers, but the UK is right at the rotten heart of it. The only surprise about this scandal is that anyone is surprised by it. The media might be focussing on the dodgy dealings of the Icelandic Prime Minister or Vladimir Putin or assorted African kleptocrats, but the British establishment is in it right up to its immaculately pressed and starched Jermyn Street shirt collared neck.
When Cameron and Osborne say that they’ve secured an opt out from the EU to protect the financial industry of the City of London, when Boris and the Brexiters – which sounds like the worst band in the world and actually is – say they want to leave the EU in order to develop the financial sector, what they really mean is that they want to allow the UK’s white collar crooks to keep on devising their complex games of pass the tax parcel. Many of the schemes which have been uncovered by the Panama papers leak were invented by firms in the City of London. The network of obfuscation upon which they depend, routing money through British overseas territories, is a cancer that’s protected and defended by the British state. That’s why the Out campaign wants to remove the UK from the EU, so that they can turn the entire UK into a glorified version of Jersey or the Cayman Islands, without workers’ rights, without employment protection, but plenty of protection for the wealth of the rich and the corrupt.
Successive UK governments have starved the country of investment in infrastructure outside London. They’ve decimated the manufacturing sector and thrown hundreds of thousands onto the scrap heap of unemployment then after impoverishing them have blamed them for their poverty. They’ve milked Scotland, Wales and the English regions of resources, capital and skilled labour. That’s our role in this precious Union, to send our resources and our capital and our children south to feed the beast. And they’ve done it so that finance companies in the City of London can go on helping the rich and the corrupt hide their money from the tax man. That’s the motor of the British economy, the sickness at the heart of the UK.
Here’s a prediction about the Panama papers leak, the UK authorities won’t send a single politician or rich and well connected businessperson to jail. They might announce an inquiry that will go nowhere like Chilcott. They might sacrifice a minor scapegoat or two like they did with the MPs’ expenses scandal. They might castigate someone who is safely dead. But no one who has their fingers deep in the jar will suffer for depriving the public of payments due, payments which could have mitigated the austerity cuts the poor are suffering in order to pay for the extravagances of the rich. Instead the UK authorities will tighten up surveillance and snooping laws to ensure that the rich and powerful can’t be embarrassed again. It’s the British way.
The people who have devised these schemes, the companies which offer directorships to the politicians who turn a blind eye to them because they themselves are enriched by them, they’re never going to do anything to prevent them. They’re going to focus on the plumber who does odd jobs at the weekend and then say that they’re cracking down on people who don’t pay their fair share of tax. It’s the entire British state that needs to be flushed, the Jerry Springer guest of Europe.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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