The Blog

The Panama Papers Show a Ruling Class With Contempt for British Society

As the Panama papers show, there is no place in a Tory manifesto for the common good or public interest when so much money can be made screwing 'ordinary' people at the altar of the free market. Dare we guess at the consequences when 2008 repeats itself?

The Panama papers reveal what we already know: rich people avoid their taxes. But take a moment to survey the bigger picture from this scandal. Here we have 11 million documents leaked from one of thousands of law firms based in one of numerous tax havens. The sheer size and reach of global finance has been laid bare for the public to glimpse, albeit in awe of its complexity. Not a decade on from the greatest economic catastrophe in living memory, investment banking has brushed off its brief flirtation with demise, romping free once more unshackled. And as regulatory enforcement recedes, the financialisation juggernaut continues afresh, growing more ostentatious and lucrative with every passing block to regulation that might halt it.

Given the cavorting of high finance highlighted in the Panama papers has deeply political roots, let us give the Conservatives their due. The Tory power-grab of the last decade has been the most brazen of opportunistic responses to financial meltdown. Never before have I read about a populist conversion to relaxed capital controls, or a spontaneous roll-back of the post-war consensus, as a response to hard times. In prior recessions, a people whose living standards were crushed by bankers never took that occasion to demand less regulation for the very institutions they had bailed out. Nor did they rally behind a Government wedded to hacking open the state, demoralising its workforce, and rewarding friendly business with the loot.

Conservative economic policy: off the hook

All this, of course, has been made possible because Conservative economic ideas were gifted the juiciest of get-out clauses in 2008 by New Labour and the Blairites who slavishly upheld Thatcherite principles of free market utopia. Rather than acknowledge that their economic policies had enjoyed three decades behind the wheel of Government, the Tories were able to declare that they never had their chance. Conservatives had not been in charge, laissez-faire was on hold, and therefore the disastrous events of recent years cast no discredit on the cornerstone free market ideas of the Conservative movement.

Listen to prominent Conservatives in 2008. You won't hear them discussing mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, or the free market deregulatory coups that made them so toxic. Pesky facts like these may have wrecked the global economy, but to Tories they may as well have been irrelevant. Instead, they fought the battle at the level of theoretics - in economic fairy tales involving maxed out credit cards, broken roofs, and prudent housewives. There was no room to reconsider the economic dogma that cast ruination upon the country, instead the Conservatives doubled-down, and resolved even more aggressively for ideological purity.

Contempt pays

And so here we are in 2016 staring down the effects of deliberate Conservative inaction. The Panama papers reveal vividly that instead of cleaning up the act of big business and the super-rich, the resurgent Tories have contrived to make their predatory actions worse - swindling the state of billions at a time when Government cuts are hurting society's poorest and most vulnerable actors. We might allow that millions of working people toil to appropriate obscene wealth for a tiny handful in this country. The very least we should expect, though, is that they pay back into the infrastructure supporting the creation of that wealth in the first place.

Yet such courtesy is too much to ask of a self-serving elite, who already consider themselves to pay more than their fair share into a state apparatus they despise. A more contemptuous attitude toward society you would be hard pressed to contrive. But this is precisely the attitude of our economic and political masters. The defenders of an extractive economy leeching rents from the majority, squirreling them away in tax havens, to fund little Boris, Gideon, and Dave through Eton - so they might be harvested as the next devout wardens of privilege.

Shattering the pretence

But above all of this rancidity, you know what galls me most? It's the pretence of our ghettoised, homogeneous elites. Inculcated in the Westminster bubble they seldom (if ever) encounter the working and middle classes, whom they inwardly loathe but claim to care about. Our Conservative ruling class are at pains to proclaim their compassion and affection for the people when it suits them, but do everything humanly possible to shield themselves and their collective wealth from coming into any sort of contact. Watch David Cameron's arrogant scorn as he eyes down Jeremy Corbyn at this week's PMQs and you'll get a sense of the superiority with which the ruling elite holds its own stock. As the Panama papers show, there is no place in a Tory manifesto for the common good or public interest when so much money can be made screwing 'ordinary' people at the altar of the free market. Dare we guess at the consequences when 2008 repeats itself?