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.