Naked Politics Blogger
In Iceland—the island nation that nobly responded to the financial crisis by imprisoning its rogue bankers—the Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has resigned. He was revealed to have co-owned an offshore company with his wife and was on Tuesday faced by crowds of protestors representing 7% of his country’s population. The source of this discovery: the Panama Papers leaks.
The details of the Mossack Fonceca leaks, the largest in history, spectacularly unveiled after a year’s worth of impressive, discrete investigative journalism, are devastating. Scandals implicating members of Putin’s entourage, leading PRC Communist Party members, as well as FIFA officials, are sadly far from astonishing. However, they were joined by an association far closer to home. The father of David Cameron also held offshore assets.
Jeremy Corbyn and other critics of the Prime Minister have a golden opportunity to lay into the man at the forefront of austerity and large-scale government cuts over the last six years. Why does the nation have to pay when your father didn’t? How come you got to go to Eton and benefit from the multiple privileges of a wealthy upbringing? Was it in part because of your father’s decision to hide money rather than pay for the infrastructure of the nation you run? Indeed, will the Prime Minister follow the example set by Gunnlaugsson?
Of course, his father’s errors are not his own and it is easy to speak ill of those no longer with us, but there is an undeniable degree of hypocrisy behind the policies of a man who benefitted from something so obviously wrong. Note the use of the present tense when he says his family ‘do not benefit’ from offshore tax havens.
Many of the world’s most important political figures or their families have ties to off-shore companies set up with view to hiding income from domestic taxmen. This will not come as much of a surprise to anyone burdened with a fair bit of cynicism: it’s fairly safe to assume that the power-hungry are generally greedy people.
What is remarkable about the Panama Papers leak is that the morality is so obvious. Whereas WikiLeaks and the NSA files threw up some interesting ethical dilemmas about national security, there is little to debate here. Those exposed are crooks, debilitating their national economies in order to line their own personal pockets. It almost feels like a gift to conspiracy theorists: almost the entirety of the world’s elite are in cahoots and they’re all stealing your money. It’s a simple interpretation, but it is the one that will stick. In a political climate defined by distrust for the ruling classes, revelations like these play right into anti-establishment rhetoric.
The cost to the UK, which owns and funds and should promptly regulate and outlaw several tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, is estimated at over £15bn. This would represent over a sixth of the government’s education budget. Maybe if people such as our leader’s father weren’t so set on hiding their money, the investment in schools like Eton wouldn’t be so worthwhile.