Last week Cameron and his Tory Crew retreated to a dark and dirty corner, hunkering down with criminal bankers, tax dodgers and the most vulgar nouveau riche to give the finger to working people.
The revelations that HSBC has been aiding and abetting money laundering nations (more benignly known as “tax havens”, you know, those blessed overseas sanctuaries that protect one’s hard earned cash from dangerous national coffers) seemed like pure déjà vu, to say the least.
The fact that Tory backers were among the wealthy clients who HSBC’s Swiss banking arm advised on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities and conceal millions of dollars of assets should not have come as a surprise either.
At weekly PMQs Cameron (as we have come to expect) did his usual thing of refusing to answer questions. In this instance, Ed wanted to know how come Dave had given a peerage to Richard Green, the HSBC boss at the height of the bank’s malfeasance, and made him a government trade minister. Four times Cameron was asked if he had ever had any conversations with Lord Green about tax avoidance at HSBC; four times he changed the subject, hiding behind trite gags about the wheels coming off Labour’s pink bus.
The fall out
The claim from the Treasury and HMRC that France had placed limitations on British prosecutors use of the incriminating HSBC files when handed over to the government in 2010 was very soon shot down. The French denied (in a somewhat prickly way, it must be said) placing any restrictions on the material; the British government had simply not responded, they intimated. Remarkably, Chancellor Osborne has made no statement of any kind.
HSBC chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, took out a full page in some newspapers to offer his apology. He admitted that the bank had “sometimes failed to live up to the standards” expected of it, and shared his pain and frustration at media reports on the allegations. (Oh dear, if only we could somehow find it in our hearts to empathise).
Meanwhile, Lord Green fell on his sword, resigning from his position with an influential (and a bit murky, perhaps?) financial services lobby group. (He will surely not be missed outside of the 1%).
No such “noble” action from a Lord called Fink! A multimillionaire former hedge fund manager and Tory donor who was once also the Tory treasurer, Lord Fink initially threatened to sue Ed for condemning his “tax avoidance activities”. But after sleeping on it he admitted to employing “vanilla” tax avoidance measures, including transferring shares into family trusts while he worked in Switzerland. From his comments, Lord Fink apparently thinks avoiding tax is normal! (We’re all in it together, right?)
Go soft on the rich, punish the poor and the vulnerable
In the midst of the HSBC meltdown we learned just how far our systems are being corrupted in support of the mega rich.
- The UK has the longest tax code in the world at over 17,000 pages, and it has more than trebled in size since 1997 (no doubt creating loopholes on top of loopholes ad infinitum). In contrast “… the Hong Kong tax code, widely held by tax lawyers to be the most admirably efficient in the world, is 276 pages long.”
- There are 300 HMRC employees investigating tax evasion of over £70bn compared to “3,250 Department of Work and Pensions bods chasing down £1.2bn of benefit fraud”.
- But who goes to prison? In one case highlighted by The Guardian, a cleaner who claimed £25,000 while working for two contract cleaners got 7 months, while a property dealer who hid a 6-figure sum in Switzerland had to pay a small penalty.
As the week drew to a close, Cameron took the path of distraction and divisiveness, announcing plans to go after obese people, alcoholics and drug addicts on benefits.
Swelling the campaign coffers with a glitzy knees-up and ministers for sale
Last week we were also reminded of who the Nasty Party works for, and it was not edifying. The very rich and vulgar turned out in force for the Black and White Ball, and the hilariously ghastly auction that made it the most successful fundraising event in the party’s history according to The Telegraph (if we ignore all these payments from big business tax avoiders!)
Even the Daily Mail was not impressed by the “secret guest list of bankers, hedge-fund managers and dodgy tycoons (not to mention pornographers)”, while The Independent wondered whether, since many of the prizes went for amounts way beyond their face value, they shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as political donations.
Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, Andrew Rawnsley pointed out that the Tories had “trousered more than £12m from just eight City potentates over the course of this parliament and that the number of big financial donors to the Conservative party has doubled since David Cameron acquired the keys to Number 10”.
Although he defended the ball, the former Tory chancellor, Ken Clarke, for one, thought the party’s dependence on millionaires was getting a bit out of hand and there should be a cap on donations.
And a new poll indicates that last week’s revelations have left a nasty taste. YouGov’s daily tracker, highlighting the issues that are getting public attention, indicates voters have a problem with Tory-Fink Land. Findings on the related issues over the last three days were as follows:
- The public judge Tories more harshly over funding row
- The HSBC and tax avoidance story recorded the highest level of public attention in recent months
- Voters think Swiss bank accounts are held for “underhand” reasonsCartoon: Chris Riddell, 15 February 2015