Perhaps we have all become too cynical. Why should we be suspicious of people who hide money deep within multiple shell companies on a tax-haven island with the transparency of a lead-lined coffin? It’s like being suspicious of your husband just because he’s hidden a second mobile phone in a box of Maltesers in his gym bag, wrapped in an old dust sheet, in the car, in the space where the spare wheel should be.
This scandal suggests some complex element in the British psyche that knows this kind of thing is happening but can’t bear to be confronted with the knowledge. We know Cameron is filthy rich – he’s wearing a two-grand suit – but his sin is that he has forced us to think about it. Cameron has struggled to deal with the revelations partly because he has no idea what normal is. I mean, none of us are certain, really, but let’s not forget that Dave once did a photo op where he tried to eat a hotdog with a knife and fork. The phrase “something like £30,000” is one the man in the street can only tolerate being used so casually if it’s describing the weekly wage of some journeyman left-back sex-case that his club is after.
One thing we’ve learned is that rich people aren’t even rational: they can afford to live in the Cayman Islands and leave their money here. Instead, they make their money go on holiday so they can live in perpetual rain, like the way the dwarves in the Snow White movie kept all the diamonds and lived in the forest.
Of course, there will be many in his parliamentary party who would be glad for Cameron to go, but not like this. If he goes because benefiting in some way from offshore funds is unacceptable, then literally none of them can replace him and the party will have to be led by a picture of a bulldog for a while.
A standard rhetorical pose on the left is that austerity is not economic but ideological. Is it an ideology? Isn’t that giving a bit too much credibility to a philosophy that amounts to: “I think we should take everybody else’s stuff”? Describing austerity as an ideology suggests that people like Osborne and Boris have a misguided faith in free-market principles that is simply too pure for this cruel world, when they’re actually two drinks away from robbing a charity box in a pub.
I’ll admit that I watched Iain Duncan Smith on Andrew Marr after he resigned, and for the briefest moment, thought I could see a certain passion, albeit misguided. I suppose I had a glimpse of how he and his supporters see him – as an almost heroic figure. But if a serial killer sees himself as being sent to rid the streets of prostitutes, we don’t sit there and say: “Ah, yes, I suppose he is a cleansing flame wielded by The Almighty, if you look at it from his point of view.”
Work assessments for people with Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy isn’t a different take on morality, it’s immorality, and it doesn’t particularly matter what the rationalisation is. I sometimes wonder if austerity might be less of an ideology and more of a pathology.
One of the reasons the Panama scandal is so damaging is that Conservatism has positioned itself as moralist: there’s a lot of talk about what’s right and fair. In practice, this rightness and fairness is only seen as being something deserved by “hardworking families”, who “speak English”. So there’s an implicit rejection of the foundation of morality: universality. When you look at it like that, Conservatives raging against human rights is actually completely consistent. They don’t believe that everybody deserves what’s right and fair, just those who conform to their idea of normal. And let’s not forget they have their ideas of normal forged in the public school system, a bloody crucible of hierarchical sodomy.
Of course, they totally fuck over hardworking families who speak English as well, because once you’ve abandoned the key principle of morality, you’ve actually adopted a mindset quite close to that of a sociopath. I mean, we think of them all as jolly millionaire mal vivants, but they’re much more dreadful than that. I’m ashamed to say that, at my worst, I think maybe hardworking, English-speaking families who voted for Cameron deserve what they get, because they chose to believe a serial killer when he told them that they were his favourite.
In the old days, courtiers aped the style of the monarch. Modern politicians aspire to be like today’s rulers – our corporate overlords. If you spend a sizeable chunk of your career making sure corporations can take their money offshore, and hope to work for those companies later in your career with some title like Non-Executive Director Of Thanks For All The Favours, and if corporations actively court political influence through massive lobbying operations, then you will end up with a certain level of symbiosis.
Also, let’s not forget that the lobbyists’ job is to mimic politicians, and the politicians are trying to promote themselves and their agendas to business. It’s like Mad Men if there were no creatives and everybody worked in sales. Imagine the horrifying occasions where they bond: drunken lunches; awards ceremonies; a black mass in the Cotswolds. Imagine being a senior Tory politician on an all-expenses-paid trip in a five-star hotel. You ring down for an extra pillow, then curse yourself for forgetting that in such exclusive establishments “extra pillow” is a codeword for prostitute. Now you are going to have two prostitutes, and only one pillow to smother them with.
In the end, as a senior politician having spent a career in what is the PR wing of corporatism, offshore tax arrangements might well be one of the few things you know anything about. I mean that quite literally. Politics is full of people who don’t know the price of a pint of milk but do understand the incorporation of a shell company. Why wouldn’t they have a trust in Panama?
Corporations may hire celebrity spokesmodels, personify themselves as mascots, and in the US, demand that they have the constitutional rights of people, but they are not people. They are blueprints for making money, and they don’t address their social obligations because they don’t care. I suspect before long we’ll see corporations donating to space exploration in the hope that they’ll be able to take advantage of a zero per cent tax rate by screwing their “Company Headquarters” plaques to the surface of the moon. In a decade, it’ll be covered with so much tessellating brass, it’ll shimmer like a distant glitterball through the gaps in the roofs of their employees’ shacks.
I should perhaps come clean and tell you that the worst holiday I’ve ever had was in the British Virgin Islands. There is so much money sloshing around that I saw seabirds stranded on the shores, collected by volunteers and taken to wildlife shelters, where skilled vets carefully removed the wads of cash clogging up their feathers. I saw a heron have enough roubles pulled from its wings to buy a decent family hatchback. I remember a pelican, its bill pouch stuffed to bursting, crumpled euros and untraceable yen spilling from its mouth like a stripper’s thong. In a restaurant, for dessert I was served a battered suitcase brimming over with 200m euros’ worth of bearer shares. When I told the waiter that I’d ordered the creme brûlée, he gave a dry chuckle and said that he must have misheard. He let me keep the suitcase saying that there was plenty more where that came from.
At night, we gathered on a starlit veranda to watch the arrival of the cash. It’s one of nature’s most epic sights. First we heard the grunting, faint at first but then louder, until by just the accents alone we could almost tell the Russian from the Australian from the French. The sea began to foam, the frenzied activity just offshore. And then they landed. Huge creatures, some as massive as an alpha walrus. Fat, and breathing heavily, they heaved themselves on to the shore. Hundreds, if not thousands. Lawyers, drug lords, politicians, prime ministers, mafia members, businessmen, peers of the realm, sex offenders and a cellist. Their bodies warm and fleshy. It had been a good summer.
This mass of quivering corporate meat quickly made its way towards the dunes. Dragging themselves forward. Thinking only of themselves. Smaller, weaker animals were crushed, suffocated. Then in a hysterical free-for-all using hands, feet, snouts, they dig. Each of these secretive creatures digs its own filthy hole. And then lumbering into position, lower their “vent” into the crater. It’s then that they began laying. Firing into the golden sand wads of unmarked bills, fake invoices, untraceable companies, gold bullion. It takes but a moment, the animals moving quickly so as not to be exposed on the shore for any longer than necessary. Then, with feverish activity from their hindquarters, the hole is backfilled. Without so much as a fingerprint left in the sand they shuffle, belly-first back towards the sea.
They raise their heads to the moon and roar. It is a primeval sound, and one by one they all join in. Soon the waves crashing on to the beach are drowned out by the beasts. There is a final sight of them before they are drawn back into the black tide, anonymous, and free. This is something that will happen forever, which scientists now estimate might be as little as 30 or 40 years.