Halfway to Paradise

On the morning that the Paradise Papers breaks revealing the full scale of mass tax avoidance by our monarch and the rich and powerful, three reports are worth reading.

The Trussell Trust tell us that their Foodbank Network distributed 1,109,309 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis in the UK, with 415,866 of those having gone to children (source). ‘The Austerity Generation: the impact of a decade of cuts on family incomes and child poverty’ – a new report by the Child Poverty Action Group tell us that the cuts to Universal Credit will put 1,000,000 children in poverty and 900,000 in severe poverty by the end of the decade (The Austerity Generation). Thirdly an Oxford University report into food bank users found people were experiencing multiple forms of destitution. 50% had gone without heating for more than four days in the past 12 months, 50% couldn’t afford toiletries, and 1 in 5 had slept rough in the last 12 months. Over 78% of households were severely, and often chronically, food insecure (‘Financial insecurity, food insecurity and disability’).

It’s important to have that context while discussing the nature of elite rule.

After Mossack Fonseca none of the Paradise Papers revelations are a surprise but if there’s ever a snapshot you needed of what twenty-first century Britain really is and how it operates, the picture of the Queen stashing millions of pounds from her private estate in a Cayman Islands fund whilst milking those in poverty through Brighthouse provides one.

The state broadcaster here attempts a massive body-swerve by blaming it all on “her advisors”:

 

Nicholas Witchell suggests that it’s the “association” with this kind of activity which is “embarrassing to her”.

This is the Royal Correspondent’s function. But the BBC who should be embarrassed by this coverage.

The problem is not, as Steven Erlanger writes that “No-one nows what Britain is Anymore”.

He writes:

“Britain is undergoing a full-blown identity crisis. It is a “hollowed-out country,” “ill at ease with itself,” “deeply provincial,” engaged in a “controlled suicide,” say puzzled experts.”

All of which is true – but a clearer picture emerges today for anyone who was confused. We are an oligarchy ran for the benefit of a tiny minority of people who’s lifestyle we avidly read about every day.

This is just the culmination of years of scapegoating benefit claimants, immigrants, and public sector workers while the powerful avoid tax on an industrial scale. This only possible with a combination of a Tory guard in government protecting their interests, an aggressive tabloid press spewing out propaganda and obsequious scribes like Witchell intoning continuity and calm.

As Richard Murphy points out on RTE here – the scale of corporate evasion is over £500 billion and the scale of personal evasion runs to”trillions”:

 

One of the strongest arguments in favourite of continuity feudalism is that the monarch stands as an exemplar. She is, we’re told “hard-working” and we are often regaled with stories of her personal thrift.

She stands above politics as a beacon of everything that is good about Britain.

Yet as Hilary Osborne reports here:

“Files from a substantial leak show for the first time how the Queen, through the Duchy of Lancaster, has held and still holds investments via funds that have put money into an array of businesses, including the off-licence chain Threshers, and the retailer BrightHouse, which has been criticised for exploiting thousands of poor families and vulnerable people. The duchy admitted it had no idea about its 12-year investment in BrightHouse until approached by the Guardian and other partners in an international project called the Paradise Papers. Though the duchy characterised its stake in BrightHouse as negligible, it would not disclose the size of its original 2005 investment, which coincided with a boom in the company’s value. BrightHouse has since been accused of overcharging customers, and using hard sell tactics on people with mental health problems and learning disabilities. Last month, it was ordered to pay £14.8m in compensation to 249,000 customers.”

The media are now in over-drive managing the revelations.

The main tactic is to try to create clear blue water between the Queen and the Duchy of Lancaster.

While the scale of the corruption is staggering, Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network stresses that this is a systemic problem and suggests that this is merely the tip of the iceberg:

“Were seeing not about one-fifth of the most secret jurisdictions of the world”.

 

To put this in a  UK context, its estimated that tax avoidance has cost the UK economy more than £12.8 billion in five years, enough to pay for 21 new hospitals.

As Tommaso Faccio explains: “As well as charging minimal or no tax to residents and non-residents, the main characteristics of tax havens are their lack of transparency and effective information exchange. As the leaked files of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca show, these havens are used by individuals and companies to stash their cash, away from the prying eyes of civilians or investigators. This is not necessarily because their money has been obtained illegally. In the case of public figures such as politicians, for example, they may want to keep the size of their wealth a secret or hide from their electorates that they or their relatives are legally minimising their tax. To do so, they hide their identity using a number of complex legal mechanisms.

Whether it is a wealthy entrepreneur or a drug trafficker, the tricks used to make their affairs hard to trace are pretty similar. It all starts by incorporating a “shell company” (or a “letterbox company”) in an offshore tax jurisdiction, using the services of a law firm such as Mossack Fonseca. These companies have the outward appearance of being a legitimate business but in reality are just empty shells. They manage the money they receive and hide who owns it. The management is made up of lawyers and accountants, whose only role is to sign documents and allow their names to appear on the company’s letterhead.”

In many senses then Britain mirrors these tax havens, Steven Erlanger’s “hollowed-out country”.

It is a front, a simulacra of a functioning democratic nation with all the apparatus and structures of a democracy whilst they are turning a blind eye to the activities of siphoning off money from the poor to the rich whilst we organise street parties.

The attempt to separate the Queen from “her advisors” can’t be allowed to stand. The Duchy of Lancaster is a private estate managed specifically to generate a return for the reigning monarch.

That is its sole purpose. It was set up in 1399 and manages investments held in trust for the Queen. The most recent filings show it had assets worth £519m as of March 2017.

Only astonishing levels of fealty and patriotic self-delusion allow this to be maintained.

Remember when Diana died and the country went into meltdown because of the way the Queen responded (or something). Blair talked of the “People’s Princess” and Elton John sang a Candle in the Wind and everyone cried for weeks?

Imagine if people actually responded now with anything like the same emotional intensity?

At least we know now why it’s called  ‘Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs’.

The question is not just Are you Yes yet? The question is also Are you Republican yet?

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Comments (10)

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  1. Rufus T hornswoggle says:

    According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duchy_of_Lancaster (admittedly wikipedia) “The estate consists of a portfolio of lands, properties and assets held in trust for the Sovereign and is administered separately from the Crown Estate …. The Duchy is administered on behalf of the Sovereign by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a government minister appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, and by the Clerk of the Council.[8] Day-to-day management of the estate’s properties and investments is delegated to officers of the Duchy Council,[2][6] while the Chancellor is answerable to Parliament for the effective running of the estate” so presumably HMG and Parliament would be aware of how money was being invested, if either chose to look. Also given that the duchy is tax exempt the obvious question to ask is what Taxes were being evaded…….

  2. Alf Baird says:

    “tax avoidance has cost the UK economy more than £12.8 billion in five years”

    And the rest! Don’t forget all the former UK public utility companies sold off by the Tories over the past 30 years (energy, water, rail, ports, airports) now owned by secretive offshore equity funds, extracting £billions in tax free profits while investing little in new infrastructure. Former public utilities are a great wee place for the global elites to safely and secretly stash their cash via offshore equity fund ‘owners’. Tory Britain is a global financial rogue par excellence. And yes, 55% of Scots voted No for that exploitation to continue ad infinitum! There is a rather large swamp to clean up. Up the republic.

    1. Jim says:

      Nice one Alf!

  3. Islay boy says:

    I have been a republican all of my life, I became a supporter of Scottish independence when I was about 15. Almost thirty years ago. If I was offered the choice of a Scottish republic OR an independent Scotland tomorrow , I would take the republic. Knowing that independence would soon follow.

    The monarchy creates a terrible system of privilege, which is the foundation for many of our problems. Land and estates being owned at vast scales, privately educated children at single sex schools, top jobs being reserved for the elite and a sickly crawling attitude to those with privilege. Also, I wish the men in the royal family would stop dressing up in military nonsense with all the medals, imagine pumping out that message to the country? Combat kings! War worshiping clowns.

    To be honest the UK is an embarrassment, and Scotland has to set an example by becoming a fairer country, the only way to do this is to become independent. Because nothing is going to happen to the queen, there will be no UK reaction to this, it will be hidden, and that is a disgrace.

  4. Graham says:

    Fine article. I live in hope that the Independent Republic of Scotland is not far away.

  5. Kenny Smith says:

    Great article again Mike. I hate the way this will all die a death and be hushed up and forgotten just like the Panama papers. I’m no Labour voter but given my background I really should be but how any Labour politician can claim to be a socialist and then take a seat in the lord’s disgusts me. As for the queen, I don’t hate her or her family personally, I mean she didn’t ask to be born into this medieval set up but what I do hate is what she represents. I’m all for a republic but sadly I feel that even if we did win our independence tomorrow I think a majority would probably still vote to keep as our head of state. A republic isn’t a guarantee against corruption but it would be a great way to start if our constitution was written correctly. I have to say I’m completely baffled by the total indifference by my fellow working man to this, it’s like we have been beaten down so long we forgot what a spine is. There will always be people who have more than others but the situation is fast approaching saturation point when that point is past who the fuck knows what society will become. Some of those dystopian sci fi movies seem rather prophetic

  6. Graham King says:

    HER MAJESTY’S REVENUE AND CUSTOMS
    is an anagram of
    HEY, MAN! UNJUST SCAM! VOTERS SEE RED!

  7. SleepingDog says:

    The monarch is the capstone in a vast edifice of state secrecy that has been built up and energetically maintained over centuries of extortion, military adventurism and entrenchment of privilege for the enriched few. Far from a ceremonial role, the royal function (with phenomenal legal powers and protection) is key to preserving elite establishment unaccountability.

    As many of the recent reports show, other countries around the world are directly suffering from the still-extant British Empire which hosts the tax havens that provide financial services for organised crime, terrorist funding, tax dodging, corrupting bribery and political parasites draining their countries’ wealth. The Queen belongs in jail, and if the fictions and deference surrounding the cult of royalty need to be stripped away first, so be it.

    The British government needs to explain why it has yet to repeal the provisions in the Treason Felony Act 1848 which make calling for a republic a serious crime:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason_Felony_Act_1848
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/11-12/12/section/3

  8. Josef Ó Luain says:

    The British Establishment is teetering on it’s heels, if it ever regains equilibrium we’ll only have ourselves to blame. Bring on the Republic.

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