David Cameron has finally admitted what we all knew since the Panama Papers found their way into the public consciousness. It's taken him five days to release this information, which already makes him look guilty. He initially insisted that it was a "private matter" on Monday, then stated he owns no shares in off shore trusts, and further "clarified" on Wednesday that he and his family will not benefit from any trust in the future. Finally, it transpired that he used to own shares (see what he did there?) until 2010 (just before he became Prime Minister) and sold them for a cool profit of £30,000.
Even for the media establishment as weak, paralysed and biased in favour of the super rich as ours is, they are slowly having no choice but to press on this spectacularly mishandled issue, despite their obvious initial reluctance. When it takes Sky News, a part of the soulless Murdoch owned empire, to demoralise you over your lack of answers on your taxes, you know you must have done something wrong. The Daily Express instead chose to break the other exciting scandal of the day: that eating walnuts prevent heart disease. The Daily Mail also seems somewhat disinterested; perhaps they wanted to be sensitive to the fact that Cameron's father had passed away. But I don't remember their hesitation at "breaking" an insane smear story that Ed Miliband's late so-called Commie father hated Britain and everything we stand for.
One of the worst reactions to all this is: "Oh but he hasn't done anything illegal". Which was exactly what Conservative Minister Anna Soubry said on this week's Question Time. This entirely misses the point. I don't think most of the super rich are stupid enough to be doing things that are illegal. The most galling part of all of this is that much of this shady asset moving is legal, that the system is rigged for the benefit of the richest and most powerful. They are working within a system that encourages and allows for this sort of immoral behaviour. It is very difficult to believe that Cameron's father would have gone to the trouble of putting his money 5,234 miles away in Panama, if there were not some serious tax advantages involved. It is also difficult to believe that Cameron would not be an indirect recipient of money made through such tax avoidance, as presumably he must have inherited some of his father's wealth when he passed away.
After winning the last election, the Tories have enjoyed painting themselves as the party of the working people, insisting they have done more to crack down on "aggressive" tax avoidance than any other government. However, the government is collecting less overall in tax and specifically less tax from the super rich, and this short fall is being subsidised by cuts to public services to plug the holes in the public budget. 28% of all taxes come from the very wealthiest, which sounds like a great statistic for this government to wheel out, to give the appearance of equality and a narrowing between the richest and poorest. This is a foil. It doesn't take into account the issue at hand, which is that this government really has no idea how much money many of the super rich earn, because so much of it is hidden. The Conservatives cannot escape their history; Margret Thatcher was the queen of deregulation, and thanks to her abolition of capital controls in 1979 Cameron's father was able to remove part of his wealth and relocate it to Panama, without having to inform the government, nor pay any UK tax.
We are living in a nation where austerity has become the economic consensus. Why should students have to subside the lack of tax collection of the most privileged, by paying a whopping £9,000 (not including all the maintenance loans) just to get an education to better themselves and increase their job prospects? Why should disabled people, one of the most vulnerable communities in our society have to subsidise the super rich? Why were the government so prepared to penalise the poorest working people by cutting their tax credits, a vital lifeline for many, to subsidise the wealthy? Much of the establishment media are always quick to point the finger at benefits cheats, criticising the subsidisation of their lifestyle. Strangely, their outrage seems much more subdued and muted when it comes to the super rich.
We always knew that the super rich hide much of their money away, but that still does not detract from the horrifying revelations of this leak. I fear we live in a faux democracy; a society that has all the appearance of a nation that treats everyone the same, but under that veneer is an ideologically driven system, assembled to benefit those who already have it all. It remains to be seen what information will emerge if/when Cameron publishes his tax returns. But for the public, I suspect the damage is already done.
This piece first appeared on the political blog site Naked Politics
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