Monday, 4 April 2016

Politics and the Panama Papers

After expending a long day compiling and pouring over spreadsheets, I wasn't expecting two terabytes worth of them would bring a smile to my face. Yet that happened last night when the massive leak from Mossack Fonseca of Panama City flashed across the world's media. In a society like ours where everyday folk can't move for video cameras and tracking devices, it's welcome when those at the top feel the heat of, for want of a better phrase, surveillance from below. As the data hasn't been dumped online for all and sundry to skim through, there will be more than a few scandals buried in the numbers and tedious legalese. Already, we've seen a few. Iceland's Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has refused to resign after he and his wife were spotted dodgy-dealing. Papa Putin's inner circle are caught up, though he claims it's a conspiracy to destabilise Russia in the run up to parliamentary elections. If you say so, Vladdio. It must be those same dark forces who have it in for the likes of Jackie Chan and Lionel Messi, as well as David Cameron's late Dad. Not that Dave's going to talk about that. Inheriting millions that have given tax inspectors the body swerve is a "private matter", we're told.

Mossack Fonseca have opted for the "within the rules" defence beloved of many MPs caught troughing on expenses seven (seven!) years ago. But, oh dear, what have we got here, clients under sanction and several front companies for pretty unsavoury regimes, including our beloved friends and comrades in the Workers Party of Korea. All above reproach, which is why several tax authorities in the wealthiest countries have announced investigations.

The leak is a significant political event, apart from seeing ruling circles the world over gripped by panic. The first, linking Dave to pots of money with questions of legitimacy hanging over them is yet another headache this useless government could be doing without as they flounder over the budget debacle, their lack of willingness to do anything to assist the beleaguered steel industry, and indeed their connivance in its decline. The problem for the Tories is they run the risk of not just of re-acquiring the nasty party tag, but being perceived for what they rightly are: a narrow (and narrowing) clique who are increasingly dysfunctional from the standpoint of British business. Their strength lies in appealing to enough people and convincing them their way is the best way, that they too will gain from the pain (which is always felt by other people anyway). Whether the Labour Party will benefit from the Conservatives' desire to skinny dip in toxic sludge remains to be seen, but their rudderless flailing and questions over the Panama papers, which are bound to embarrass other Tories and businesses with Tory links, is storing up huge political problems for them down the road.

As the tangled web of dodgoir transactions are followed and the global circuits of illicit cash mapped, this feeds into political problems everywhere. Even broken antennae have picked up the fact that mainstream politics is in trouble. Anti-politics and naive cynicism is the de facto attitude at large, there is distrust of (representative) political institutions, and a soft polarisation of electorates under way in many countries. I say 'soft' because the organised expression of that polarisation, Jeremy Corbyn and UKIP here, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump over there, is diffuse and largely atomised. Hundreds of thousands are inspired by the new (old) leftism of Jez and Bernie, but a great deal of that support is passive and gestural. Pay three quid, register as a Democrat. Politics remains a spectator sport deserving the barest amount of participation. And what's true of the left is true of those newly-drawn into politics by the populist right. The so-called people's army depends on disgruntled voters fed up with the way of the world and has pulled only but a hardy few into activity. Likewise Trump. His rallies might be scary and bizarre viewed from afar, especially when violence flairs, but what do most of The Donald's supporters do after he's breezed through town? They go back to their everyday lives letting their inchoate anger fester and wait for a messiah to fix it for them.

What repeated scandals involving elites do is crank up the frustration and the cynicism, and make the answers provided by the new lefts and new rights appear straightforward, no-nonsense, and appealing. With clear rallying points, what is amorphous today could well become organised tomorrow, and when that happens soft threatens to pass over into hard polarisation, and all the consequences that may flow from that.


Anonymous said...

and what is it that angry, alienated atomized white people do here in the states, phil? they like to beat people up! and currently, that's the concern. after the election, or, as is looking more likely, after the convention, the chances are you may see an angry trumpist or two (or more likely, in a group of four or five) assault a black person, or maybe a gay couple going for a walk, or a trans-person, who, in their eyes, has wandered into the wrong bathroom, or hell, anyone who just might look at them funny. this america, after all...

BCFG said...

The politics of this are limited. Because we have seen time and again how the rich put their funds offshore to avoid paying tax, and time and again we see no response from the masses, other than voting in the parties of the rich! So I am taking the current furore with a pinch of salt.

No one can claim to be surprised that the rich and powerful use finance experts to siphon off their wealth. For god’s sake we have Islands off Britain that serve no other purpose than being places the rich can avoid paying for Kidney Dialysis machines and other such useless extravagancies.

The big danger is the one we endlessly see, i.e. it is politicians who come in for criticism and not business people. I would say the main ultimate use of a politician is to take blame for the rich and powerful. They are the shields of the rich and powerful. Although with this Tory government they seem to be one and the same!

So the initial focus on Putin misses or at least deflects the point, though it does highlight the problem with liberal concern.

The only way this will be ultimately tackled is for a complete breakdown and disintegration of the centre left, after all it was Alistair Darling who said a few ago, as Chancellor, that we cannot go after the rich and their tax avoidance because we can’t upset them! So the real enemy is the same as it was before, i.e. the Yvette Cooper loving centre left.

Vote Bernie Sanders!

asquith said...

Opinion in Stoke, among the people I spoke to, is that of course this happens, they always knew it and didn't expect anything different.

The full-on Labourites were reinforced in their convictions, but the apoliticals were no more engaged than they ever were. I think this will have a limited impact, the great British public are more likely to get angry with working-class immigrants or the unemployed than this.

I shan't be supporting Bernie Sanders, I don't think, I hate Donald Trump and Lyin' Ted is, I've decided, even worse (less theatrical, but worse). Hillary is too tied to illegal warmongering and Bernie is an old-time socialist of the kind that, if I don't support them here, I don't see why I'd support in America.

I'd be thinking about Gary Johnson actually if I was American, let it be known that we're sick of nationalism, protectionism, illegal wars, puritanism, and all of Lyin' Ted.

Phil said...

a great deal of that support is passive and gestural.

My CLP's just changed the 1/25 member rule for GC representation to 1/50 - if we'd kept the old ratio we would have needed to get a bigger room. That's just members, but I've been to a couple of routine ward meetings where people have ended up standing at the back because all the folding chairs were in use. Corbynites who are actually active may be the tip of an iceberg, but it's a big iceberg and a big tip.