“We are overwhelmed by the scale, frequency and variety of corruption cases in Britain, from police manipulation of evidence, to over-charging in out-sourced public contracts, by way of cash-for-access scandals involving prominent politicians and price fixing, market manipulation and fraud in key sectors of the economy.”
TJN has long held the view that Britain is at the forefront of the global supply side of corruption. Ten years ago TJN’s director John Christensen slammed the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for corrupting perceptions of corruption, arguing that:
“The elephant in the living room of the corruption debate is the role played by the global infrastructure of banks, legal and accounting businesses, tax havens and related financial intermediaries in providing an offshore interface between the illicit and licit economies.”
One of the few people in the world who has a well-informed insider’s perspective who is also happy to speak out about it is Brooke Harrington of Copenhagen Business School, who took the remarkable step of actually obtaining a professional qualification in wealth management to pursue her studies. As she told our Taxcast recently:
“Tax avoidance was really only the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t realise how much bigger the problem is. Really what wealth managers do extend much more generally to law avoidance. And that creates problems of legitimacy for whole governments: it’s bad enough that people think they are getting shafted because the rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes: it’s quite another matter when you say there is one law for the rich and one for everyone else and they are not the same: that is the sort of thing that can potentially topple governments.”
The Tax Justice Network estimates the global elite are sitting on $21–32tn of untaxed assets. Clearly, only a portion of that is owed to the US or any other nation in taxes – the highest tax bracket in the US is 39.6% of income. But consider that a small universal income of $2,000 a year to every adult in the US – enough to keep some people from missing a mortgage payment or skimping on food or medicine – would cost only around $563bn each year.
A larger income, to ensure that no American fell into absolute abject poverty – say, $12,000 a year – would cost around $3.6tn. That is a big number, but one that once again seems far more reasonable when considered through the lens of the Panama Papers and the scandal of global tax evasion. Because the truth is that we have all been robbed, systematically, by the world’s wealthiest people, for decades. They have used those stolen dollars to build yet more wealth for themselves, and all the while we have been arguing with ourselves over what to do with the leftover pennies.
Shocking but not surprising, considering their recent political history.
This is a speculative blog based initially on a couple of conversations with people in the industry, with some supporting evidence.
A (slightly tidied-up) conversation we’ve just had went along these lines:
“You’ll never guess what is the new Switzerland for Asia. And I mean big time. The Asian money is heading there. Banks set up there as its a financial centre that doesn’t tax foreigners. And its perceived as safe, and not a signatory to the CRS [The OECD’s Common Reporting Standard.] TAIWAN.”
The latest edition of Tax Justice Focus, edited by Daniel Hind, Nicholas Shaxson and John Christensen, explores the Finance Curse, a phenomenon rather similar to the Resource Curse afflicting resource-rich economies. Evidence continues to mount suggesting that, far from being an asset, a large and globally ‘competitive’ financial sector, above a certain size, becomes a drain on the rest of the economy. Continue reading →
Ken Loach’s ‘The Spirit of 45’ shows how the post-war Attlee government undertook the most extensive and radical overhaul of industry and public services, despite the economy being in dire straits. ‘The Spirit of 45’ legacy lives on in the NHS, but it and many other public services are under attack; the divide between the rich and the rest, has become greater; and the nation’s political and financial power resides again, within a very small circle of decision-makers. So what stands in the way of reviving the ‘common good?’ And how do we pay for it?
made by Lin Ho-Chih
photographed and transcribed by Isabelle Chaize
Deborah: The theme of today, we’ve had three events today under the broad title of ‘Tax and Civilised Society’. The conversation we’re going to have now is around the idea of reviving the ‘Spirit of ‘45’ and more importantly how to pay for it. John Hilary is going to chair for us, John is executive director of War on Want, author of upcoming Poverty of Capitalism. …
John H: Thanks very much to the Barbican for giving us the time to take forward the discussion about the movie we’ve seen and how that feeds into the present. Can I call the people on the panel, Polly and Maurice, and also Chris Ford who’s also been involved with the cleaners’ movement outside as well. Thank you everyone for coming and I hope you found that as moving as I did, the idea that at a time when Britain was completely bankrupt after the Second World War there could be that level of ambition, that level of vision and that level of inspiration to create a decent civilised society. I think it’s really that spirit that Ken has wanted to try to put into this, but not just as a historical record. The idea is that this is a political project that gets us to think about what the situation is today, and why we’re sitting in a completely different world to the one which we saw in 1945. And we’ve got a really fantastic panel of speakers here to start this discussion, and I want it to be a discussion which we can all take part in…
I’m going to start with a short introduction from each speaker, and then I’m going to throw it open not so much for questions to the panel, although if you want to ask a question you’re welcome, but more for a general discussion. Starting with John Christensen, who is the director of the Tax Justice Network and has been working for many years to try to plumb the depths of exactly what’s gone wrong in the passage of time from ’45 until now, and I think that’s my question to you John.
John C: The rot set in very early on, in fact even as Attlee took power the neo-liberal were already fighting back. They’d organised even before the war, starting in Paris, and almost immediately afterwards they started to convene meetings. To begin with very covertly but funded by others. They were absolutely determined not to allow the welfare state to flourish. And they did it partly by ensuring that every single step taken by any progressive government would be countered by, for example, the Bank of England ensuring that our exchange rate policies were never geared to assist with a proper post-war construction; to ensure that our tax policies in Britain were always geared to promote the interests of the rich. You heard Attlee talking about the rent-seekers and the capitalists and of course our policies have always been to their favour.
And almost from the very start their counter-attack included ensuring that not only were our tax policies were geared to favour the rich, but also that our banking regulation would be undermined and that British capital could go straight back to its pre-war, in fact to its imperial past. Because we in Britain never really had a very successful capitalism from the start, even though the Industrial Revolution began in this country, by the end of the 19th century we had already lost the productive battle. Our capitalism was already conceding ground to German capitalism, to French capitalism, above all to the United States, and we had become, or rather our banks had become, geared to the interest of financial capitalism.
The big project was to revive the power of the City of London by keeping sterling as high as possible; by making sure our tax policies always favoured the rich; by allowing Britain’s tax havens to become very powerful at a global level to attract capital from across the rest of the world. By the mid-1960s we were already, that is we the progressive left, were already beginning to lose that battle, the Bank of England was winning, the City of London was regaining its independence, and I would argue that by 1986 we had a completely different spirit in this country.
The spirit of 86 was a spirit of greed, it was a spirit of neoliberalism, a spirit of deregulation, of privatizing absolutely everything, of taxing middle and lower-income households and not taxing the rich. That came from somewhere; that came from a massive project, very heavily funded and largely funded, it has to be said, from within Britain. It began with organisations like the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, the Mont Pelerin Society, look it up if you aren’t familiar with it. They had already invested, virtually every single economics department, the vast majority of our newspapers already had, journalists who had been indoctrinated by this idea that Britain’s future lay with a deregulated economy, a powerful City of London.
And as it happens I grew up in Jersey, I grew up in a very privileged little island which already by the 1960s was emerging as a tax haven, and I grew up in that spirit which became predominant here, that spirit of ‘socialism is a bad thing, everything collective is a bad thing, collective education is a bad thing, collective health is a bad thing’. And these places, Jersey in particular, saw collections of bankers and so on, bankers, accountants, lawyers, who saw it as their project to undermine everything that progressive forces stood for. And they were prepared to sabotage every single effort if they had to, they would sabotage sterling and indeed they did in the 1960s and the 1970. And they had very powerful allies in this process; they had for example the Bank of England, which right from the start, right from the moment it was nationalised, saw it as their project to hinder every single thing that Attlee aimed to do. And in that respect it’s absolutely extraordinary that the first Labour government managed to put into place the National Health Service, the Education Act, and everything you saw there, despite the fact that right from the start the City of London and its agents like the Bank of England were trying to sabotage their efforts.
So to sum up, I think that the really big failing of the first Labour government was not to take control, they didn’t take control of the Bank of England, they didn’t take control of the banks, they didn’t regulate the banks sufficiently. If we are to move forward we must now roll back on the power of the banks, we must now put into place tax policies which actually tax the rent-seekers and the capitalist class, we must tax land, if you look at land ownership in this country it has one of the most concentrated landownerships in the world, over 70% of the land belongs to less than 1% of the population. We need to roll back on the power bases which by and large remain hidden. So I think there were mistakes from the very outset, but we can learn the lessons now and one of the lessons we need to learn is that our banking industry, far from being the gem that we delude ourselves into thinking that this is what we’re really good at, our banking system is completely unfit for purpose and must be completely changed because without that we will not be able to restructure the economy back towards a productive rather than a rent-seeking economy.
John H: Thank you very much for that. It’s very important to move it to that structural discussion, obviously we saw the face of Thatcher and when the question was posed, what got us into this mess, and up comes her face, it satisfies a very easy answer within us, but there are structural, very deep concerns. And I think that’s a nice point on which to bring in Polly, who has worked in the heart of the beast, in the City for many years, and written about it. Polly I suppose the question to you is, what is it that is actually continuing that whole tradition of capitalist assault on society, and what can we do about it?
Polly: Hi, I don’t work in the City any more, in case anyone’s going to throw anything at me! I left quite a long time ago. And I left for exactly the reason that has been reiterated in various guises today i.e. that the City, I discovered in my less than two years there, was this centre of greed, the nice word is aspiration but it’s greed basically, and narcissism, and all the things that I’m sure you imagine, and now are coming out in the headlines and we know all about. But in terms of why it’s like that and why it’s a problem, and what we can do about it, it’s a really, I’m sure some of you have had experiences and are familiar with the financial industry, and it’s a really strange place, for anyone who hasn’t been in it. It’s hard to describe.
From a personal perspective it was like a bubble, being there. Anyone who’s walked from Moorgate to here this afternoon will know that it’s a very weird place, it’s a very different environment from your average part of the country, it doesn’t represent the people or the place or anything about real life. And to be in it, that’s exactly what it is like. It’s removed from society. And I remember there were specific conversations like, on bonus day and when we were told our bonuses, the amounts we would be getting, someone who was a VP, who would be getting definitely in the six figures for their bonus, came back and joked ‘it’s like working for charity!’ And I thought, that’s, are you joking? These are the sort of hilarious, I don’t know if they’re jokes or just the way people are, but that’s kind of representative of what goes on in the City. And it’s very…they are removed and aloof and they know they are, and they don’t need…people talk about them and us in terms of how the riots started and the people on the ground were saying it’s them and us. Well actually the City thinks that, they know it’s them and us, and they are the ones in control and in power.
Someone asked me the other day if it’s got any better as far as I could tell in the last ten years, because I left nearly ten years ago, and I wish I could say ‘yes, it’s got better’, but the only thing, as far as I can tell, that’s happened, is that people have become more aware of people watching them. So the City is very aware that the media and the people at the other end of the spectrum are hating them. But I don’t think they’re doing anything to change the way things are. So I’m afraid greed and narcissism are still ingrained in that culture. And because it attracts a certain type of person, it’s this bubble that’s self-contained, and self-sustaining really. I wish I had the answer. I think regulation is one of the answers, but also on a bigger scale diversification of industry so that we are less reliant on the City. But the City itself is just carrying on as it always was.
John H: Thank you for that, it sort of meets our expectations. I suppose the structural challenges are clear, but I want to bring a bit of politics into it because our next speaker is Maurice Glasman, Labour peer. And in a sense you heard right from the end there, the problem for us is not the Tory party, because the Tory party has remained constant, that’s an unchanging body which is set up to satisfy the aspirations of capital. The problem for us is the Labour party and the stunning difference between the vision and the aspirations of the people we saw – Clem Attlee we saw speaking there at Westminster Central Hall, Nye Bevan and the others. What’s gone wrong? How can we get a Labour party which will actually bring us back to that type of vision and that type of aspiration?
Maurice: Well, first of all I’d like to say that the best part of the day for me was meeting the living wage campaigners outside, it brought back very good memories of my life and of living wage campaigning, and they started that campaign about seven years ago, and to see that they’ve actually… Now, this comes to the difficult bit – I really hated that film. I thought it was manipulative, one-dimensional, propagandistic, I didn’t like it at all, I’ve just got to get that out there and say that the 1945 government is a huge problem. It’s a huge problem on three levels.
The first, which was kind of raised, is that the model of nationalisation, basically, was a free pass for PPE graduates for four generations to rule us. And that’s what we’ve still got. So the Labour party was technocratic, managerial, Fabian; there was no worker representation, there was no user representation in the nationalised industries. This meant that they were genuinely authoritarian things. If you look at the pre-existing trade union history, going back to the 1890s right up ‘45, there were genuine ideas of worker ownership, partnerships. They talked about the canal, that was constantly supposed to be a partnership between workers, locals and users, that was all smashed by people who constantly stress the structural, what are we going to do… So I’m saying that I think your response to the film is naïve, I think you’re not looking at a whole range of problems relating to a very bureaucratic administrative and elitist form of management that was characteristic of ’45 that didn’t do us any good at all. So the first is the nationalised industries, that was horrid.
Secondly the National Health Service, which when I sit in the Lords and I see Labour peers speak of the National Health Service I get a really full understanding of what it means to live in the Soviet Union. Every one of them pays tribute to the heroism of the workforce, everybody involved with the National Health Service. However, people are being abused and neglected on the National Health Service and I don’t know why we can’t speak of this. And they’re abused and neglected once again because – and the interesting thing with the nationalisation model which wasn’t brought up, I noticed Manny Shinwell vaguely appearing, Manny Shinwell invited the National Union of Mineworkers onto the boards and they wouldn’t go. They wouldn’t go because trade unions in England, in Britain, didn’t want any form of partnership with businesses. This was a catastrophe that we have to look at.
Now, a very parallel world opened up in, of all places, Germany, where there was worker representation on boards, there were constraints on capital. Capital, banks were endowed, they could not lend outside the regions and the sectors. So there was worker representation on boards, there was vocational regulation of the labour market, and there were constraints on capital. Now the whole legacy of Thatcherism, and it’s a shocking thing, we saw it last week in the football, is that essentially Germany won. That’s the shocker of ’45, Germany went a different path that wasn’t nationalised, it was decentralised; it wasn’t based on nationalisation but partnership models; it wasn’t based on PPE graduates from Oxford but actual workers making decisions with managers who actually had some experience of working the industry they were involved with, rather than dependence on management consultants. This is a huge issue I want to raise. So I just want to say it was really great meeting the workers at the door. It was a lot worse watching the film, for me. And to see Tony Mulhearn, a militant SWP figure as a kind of casual observer in the thing, just added to general unbearable idea that I was being deceived. So I just want to put that out there.
So on the one hand you had a huge problem with nationalisation, on the second hand you had a problem with state centralised administrative systems. But the third level, the worst level, is that it didn’t challenge capital. This is the terrible thing. The City of London remained completely outside parliamentary jurisdiction; there were no constraints on the way that the City of London operated outside those constraints in terms of global capital and the maritime economy. So that’s where…where we are is we have to rediscover each other, we have to discover the pre-1945 labour movement that didn’t surrender all power and authority to social science graduates and economists and accountants and the rest of the people who’ve been bossing us about for the last 60 years. And what we’ve got to do is organise each other to challenge the domination of both capital and the state. And that’s the dilemma we face.
John H: Thanks Maurice, and that will come up when we have the discussion later and we can look at different models of common ownership, because I think one thing we do all understand is the past is not there to be repeated, the past is an inspiration for a better present. One of the things I noted from the film is that it was a very strong image of a Labour aristocracy which is white and male, and I think that was one thing that came across very strongly to me as being a very different era from what we’ve had today. And I’m very happy to be able to give the floor to Chris Ford, who is the secretary of the IWGB which is the organising union for the cleaners who are outside. Chris, one of the things that came out of this is the importance of decent work and a living wage and the opportunity to work your way to a better future. And I know that’s been at the heart of the mobilization that you’ve been doing here. So I’d love to hear your reaction to the bit of the film you saw but also more generally about the cause at the moment.
Chris: Thank you very much. I want to begin by talking about the spirit of 1940 as opposed to the spirit of 1945 because I think it’s quite pertinent, particularly because of the issue of race and class in the labour market in London in particular. Because I would say at the present time we have a very dangerous atmosphere being created which is quite toxic, of intolerance, racism, which has become much more explicit in the workplace than at any time before, and I want to relate it back to 1940, to what precedes the spirit of ’45. And that is when it was quite OK for us to hail the presence of Polish, Czech, Romanian pilots flying spitfires against the Nazis, and build statues to celebrate East Europeans coming here and helping us keep this island safe from an invasion. It was perfectly OK, for a period, to recognise the presence of Indian and Caribbean and African soldiers in the British Army to resist the Nazis, and celebrate that as part of the overall struggle. Whereas today we have a completely different atmosphere being created where we’re told there is an invasion of Romanians, Poles are lowering our wages, God knows what the next story will be, probably an invasion from Mars probably coming via the Daily Mail. The atmosphere is poisonous, and it’s reflecting something that’s actually been happening for some time, and building up in workplaces.
So let’s start by knocking the myth on the head. Polish workers, and Latin American, and African workers, workers, don’t determine the wages in London. They don’t come here and as has been pointed out they certainly don’t have a vote on the board, to decide they’re going to get paid poverty pay, have to leave their homes in the middle of the night, do three jobs in a day, earn a pittance and have crummy, despicable accommodation where they then have to struggle all week to bring up their families. That’s the reality for many, many workers, and increasingly it’s the reality not only for migrant workers but for many others who already live here in this city.
And I want to begin with that, because the dispute which we’ve been lobbying here today on, regarding the Barbican, and it in fact includes the Guildhall, it began several years ago around the City of London Corporation, is quite symptomatic of this overall problem we face. The City of London Corporation, I would invite everyone to see the film called The Secret City, about the semi-feudal relic which we live under in this place, it’s not democratically elected.
If you work in a bank you can have a vote for the Common Council, but if you have to clean the toilets, just consider yourself lucky that you’re doing that. The conditions for the people who are the cleaners here in the City of London are quite frankly disgusting. In the Guildhall, where we began a few years ago, we began the strikes just to get paid the wages, which were £6.19 an hour, that people were entitled to get, they weren’t even receiving them. Twice they had to strike to get them. Then they asked for the living wage and they faced a torrent of union busting by the companies that were brought in and by the Corporation. In the Barbican Centre, which we’re sitting in here today, which holds itself up as one of the leading institutions of culture in Europe, similarly we found the pattern of union busting, not actually responding to the desires of the people. It’s disgraceful, here in the 21st century, here in these premises, where we have managers who can openly describe their workers as ‘black midgets’; it’s disgusting that we have pregnant workers who are simply requesting what is their rights, to different working when they’re heavily pregnant, being made to clean seven flights of stairs and collapsing in a pool of blood in the toilets and not even receiving an apology. These are the realities, and the response we’ve received from this hasn’t been to sit round the table to actually react, it’s been lies and excuses, and it’s been aggressive attacks.
Even today, I’m sitting here talking to you, they weren’t going to let me in here today because I’ve got this union flag in my bag. I’m going to hold it up because I want to stick this up to the Corporation of London, because they banned me for having this. It took the intervention of the platform to get me on here. And that’s quite symptomatic of them in reality. Now I want to knock it on the head because you’re probably going to get a statement going out after today and the fact that I’ve been here saying, ‘the Corporation are willing to pay the living wage, but the cleaning company won’t’; and then the cleaning company will say that they’re willing to pay the living wage but the Corporation won’t. Well let’s just say they’re both liars. If both of them are happy to pay the living wage, then let’s just say on Monday hopefully they will. But if they don’t, we’re going to be continuing to struggle. And it’s similar to the same struggles that are happening all across here in the City area.
Because there’s two spirits, and that’s where I disagree with the film; even under Thatcher there were always two spirits, there is a spirit at the bottom, where there people who always felt collectively, people who weren’t imbued with greed but actually did care about the people next to them, who attempted to associate with others and make it better in society; and that spirit continues to exist and it was out there on the pavement today. And then there was another spirit, and it’s always been there, it’s not new under Thatcher, it was greed, it was profit, and it’s called capitalism. That’s the problem, and you can’t control it, you need to abolish it.
John H: Thank you very much. I want to open it up to people, and I want people to respond in terms of what they’ve heard here which they agree with, and to respond about the things that they don’t feel that they agree with. This isn’t going to be a question and answer where you get one and one, but actually to open it up for a discussion. So if you’d like to ask a question, you’re welcome to ask a question and I’d ask the panel to register it in their heads, who’s asked them a question and they’ll respond to it eventually. But put your hands up if you’d like to respond to anything you’ve heard or anything you felt moved you about the film itself.
Question 1: I feel that you missed the point that was made in the film that what was being presented, as far as I could see, that it wasn’t perfect, there were plenty of people who were being interviewed who accepted that it wasn’t a perfect model, but they were trying to do something hugely radical. And I feel that the Labour party has lost that momentum from where I’m sitting, because if they’re for anything, they’re meant to be inspiring us, and they haven’t inspired me for a long time.
Question 2: What I think it was missing is what the Labour party did after 1997. For example, I think Tony Blair promised that he would abolish the internal market and GP fundholding, that was the creation of John Major’s government. What he did was NHS Plan 2000. What he did was establish what for 13 years would allow the Conservative government to pass the NHS Act 2000. Is there any sort of political will remaining in the Labour party today, that’s what I can’t answer.
Question 3: I do agree with Maurice, what you say about centralisation, it seems like it’s the major problem, and to solve all of the problems of capitalism by centralisation and to make governments that are already so complicit with capitalists, to make them powerful or any sort of concentration of power, it feels like that’s the problem. And whether you’re right-leaning or left-leaning, either way it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be solved by having more concentration of power in a few people’s hands.
Question 4: I don’t think there’s anything conflict with Maurice in terms of enjoying the film and still agreeing with some of his analysis. This is a Ken Loach take, I think it’s a fascinating one, I think it’s stimulating us to try and think of how we generate the spirit even if we don’t agree with some of the mechanics. But if I could pick up on one element that’s troubled me over many years as someone who’s been involved in the trade union, is the element that Maurice touched on and I don’t think developed which was about sensitivity to users. Because I think a lot of the traditional problems with nationalised industries and state control, whether at national or local level, has been that element. Someone at RMT was eulogizing about the wonderful feeling of involvement in the railway industry but I think if we’re honest, not that I’m defending nationalisation, but if I’m honest it could done have with a lot more sense of user input into it because a lot of us got deeply pissed off with the way in which it was run for the users rather than for the consumers and services. And I think that runs quite a way across many of the nationalised industries and it’s something that needs attention, whatever mechanisms we want to develop.
Question 5: I’d like maybe to offer a modest defence of the film. It may be unnecessary since everybody seemed to find it inspiring in one way or the other with the exception of Maurice perhaps. It seems to me the film is called the Spirit of ’45, it’s about the spirit. What made those particular conditions capable of producing such radical change, when after all, the Labour party was still led by a bunch of well-meaning, spirited reformists. How were they actually able to do so much and do it so well, even for a limited period of time and even so misguidedly; and what comes to me I suppose, is what I came in with, it was illustrated in the film, is the spirit of the people. What they had learned; how they had been empowered by the experience of the war and their role in it. You never get a progressive Labour government ever, still less one doing anything, unless the people have the radicalism and the experience and the radicalism and the power and the guts to drive them to it.
Now there was one other lost decade which was one of those areas which the film – the film did not cover everything. This was one of those areas it did not cover: the ‘70s. The ‘70s was a decade that has been lost to the neoliberal analysis, the 70s was a disaster, a failure, Thatcher had to come in and do something. The truth of the matter is that in the ‘70s, unions were stronger, inequality was far less, wage levels were higher in terms of the share of the GDP, and everything that allows a country to potentially to flourish leads Richard Wilkinson to find in his book that the index of happiness, an index whose scientific basis I’m still a bit lost by, was better in the ‘70s than at any other time.
Now just to make one final, brief point, I read last week as a non-economist that the German economy over the last three months grew only by 0.1%. In German terms and expectations this is a near economic disaster. But some senior official in some major German bank was saying, ‘this is no problem, because the economy will grow. It will grow because the share of wages of the GDP in Germany is significantly higher than anywhere else in the rest of Europe, and these people will spend their money, this will stimulate growth, and the German economy will be secure’. What a solution for the rest of us.
John H: Can I come back to the panel for some thoughts – it’s the spirit; it’s about concentration of power; it’s about sensitivity and responsiveness to people outside the industries; but also this political question, and there’s more to say about the political question – what can we hope for from the left? And I think that’s something we’ll come back to even more.
Maurice: Thank you for hearing my initial rant, I’ve now equilibrated, it’s been said, obviously there were some very good things, and it’s completely correct to talk about the spirit of ’45. What I wanted to talk about was that spirit was dashed pretty early on in the game. I hear your question and what you’ve said. Let’s just think about what a new politics, what a new unionism is going to look like. I particularly appreciated what you said in relation to the organisation of the user interest being vital moving forward. So let’s look at three, relevant for today.
We’ve got an elected Mayor of London with no body politic whatsoever, with no power over the City of London, it’s a bit like electing a game-show host. Very, very, very little democratic control. So one thing I would suggest, and it’s a campaign I’ve been thinking about for a while as regards New Labour politics, is a renewal of citizenship. How about getting London recognised as a city? That would be a really good one, to integrate the City of London into the whole city; the oldest continuous democratic citizenship in Europe, started in 1190, held the monarch to account, protected common law, and then got completely taken over by the financial interest. So one thing I would like to see is a campaign for a unified London city.
The second thing is related the NHS: a new form of corporate governance in the public and the private sectors. So there’s a third workers, a third funders and a third users. And that’s a way that you could have the workforce elected and the workforce represented.
I completely disagree with the abolition of capitalism, I thought that the Cambodian experiment didn’t go so well. The abolition of capitalism is worth talking about, that’s not on the agenda. Obviously I’m looking for a balance of interests. And when there is talk about the abolition of capitalism, it has led pretty consistently to quite nasty kinds of politics. So what you’ve got to do is domesticate capitalism, constrain capital. This is the failure of ’45 to do that. And you’ve got to do it at source through these regional, sectoral and firm levels.
And so one, a democratic London would be a very significant challenge to the power of capital; second, a third a third a third in all forms of corporate governance: worker, user and funder whether in the private sector or the state, so there can be a balance of interests in the governance. And the third area is to do with housing and community land trusts. Not council housing, not controlled housing, but the transfer of the freehold of housing to communities so that they can build homes. These are areas that are alive and being thought about.
Polly: I agree in terms of not your entire mantra but…just listening to what everyone’s been saying following on the film, I think this isn’t really about privatization versus nationalisation or capitalism versus socialism. These things can actually co-exist, that’s what taxes are for. There is a model that’s sensible, where someone who has aspirations can go for, and social mobility, whatever definition you use, it does exist, people can do things with their lives and be fulfilled, and the happiness index, whatever it is, can soar high. But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in a completely nationalised society and I actually don’t think that would work in any way. And the other thing I would say is that the film talked a lot about the working man, and obviously as you said we’re not going back in time, we’re not going back to the time of miners and railwaymen and women in their households, but we do have the equivalent, which is people who want to work and people who are fortunate enough to be in work. And as far as I can tell there is actually no political party that represents them, and until we have that I think we’re in a lot of trouble.
Chris: I want to begin by agreeing about the ‘70s. I was born in 1968, and I think the ‘70s were fantastic. I do remember a lot of power cuts etc., but what was fantastic was that the laws that were introduced by Thatcher were completely smashed by ordinary working people by 1972, and those were the laws that restricted trade unions. We think Thatcher was bad, Heath put trade union leaders in prison; hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike in 1972, and freed them from prison. In 1972 those laws were dead in the water. Throughout the 1970s, trade union membership doubled to 15 million by 1980. That’s why we have the progressive change and the erosion of inequality you’re describing. That’s why we got the Equal Pay Act, Race Relations Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Health and Safety at Work Act, and that’s why so much effort is made to discredit the ‘70s. Because one of the big things that Thatcher and her acolytes managed to achieve, which I’m afraid my learned friend to my right is repeating like a mantra, is that there is no alternative. That capitalism is here to stay, there is no alternative. Look at Russia, look at China. Well they love China now because they can say, you can call yourself Communists and wrap yourself in the socialist flag, but in essence it’s still capitalism, you still have inequality, you still have a lack of democracy, and you still have exploitation.
The question is, can we have an alternative to this system? Because the reality is, millions of people know capitalism doesn’t work. But what they don’t know is what kind of alternative we have. And the difference I have with I think most of the platform here is, I haven’t given up hope in replacing it, and I still have the spirit of ’45 which did say that we could have a socialist alternative. And lots of people were in a thing called the labour movement, not just the labour party, and that’s what we need to rebuild.
John H: let’s open up to more thoughts. And while we’re waiting for more hands, just to say what I do know from this and what Ken Loach has as one of his political ideas is the formation of new left parties of unions which will challenge from the left. And I just want to say as a public thing before anybody goes, in two weeks today in Westminster Central Hall where you saw Clem Attlee speaking, is the People’s Assembly. The PA is something that has been called from a broad left position, War on Want included; there are already 2800 people signed up to be attending that day of discussion, of mobilisation, of thinking and debate. And I really urge people to try and go along to that.
Question 6: I suppose I’m slightly confused because I didn’t think the film was some sort of polemic in favour of a totalitarian socialist state. From what I could see, and it was repeated several times, is the idea that nationalisation is the best option where there were natural monopolies, where it made economic sense. It was also quite nice that people ended up better off as a result, infinitely much more preferable. I think also the idea that capitalism and socialism can co-exist, I suppose in some sense they have to where there are myriad people there will be different political opinions. But I think it doesn’t really matter what we call things, I agree what matters is what things actually are. And where you have a position where something is clearly unjust then it falls to us, the people, to do something to change that. What came to me most strongly was the power of the people acting together to get things done, because rest assured I don’t think any of this, admittedly I wasn’t alive at the time, would have been possible without the will of the people, indeed the same people who voted in Clement Attlee.
I absolutely agree with Maurice, going back to his earlier point, I think PPE graduates should be barred from politics and possible the Civil Service as well, it would be a much leaner place without them. I must question, you raised the point I believe, I apologise if I’m paraphrasing or misquoting you, that your position is that we should have not power collected in the hands of individuals in the form of nationalisation or indeed any sort of oligarchy or plutocracy, but also that there should not be too much of the alternative, that we should find a middle way. How I interpret that, and you can accuse me of cynicism of you like, is that you don’t stand for this or that, so what do you stand for? I don’t think for me that you’ve made the case strongly enough.
Question 7: I was wondering, because everyone talks about capitalism versus socialism, whenever I’ve heard people talk about it people seem to have such different definitions of what capitalism is, whether its mercantilism or free market… I was just wondering, if you’re arguing against capitalism, what is it?
John H: Well we’ve got about another ten minutes, so that’s going to challenge us…
Question 8: I was thinking about the banking problems that we have, and I just wondered if the Islamic form of finance and banking where they don’t have interest, and the banks actually do share the risk of what’s going on; whether or not that might be something that people might think about?
Question 9: At the time of the ’45 changes coming into place, the make-up of the British population in terms of health, as far as I’m aware, was actually in some ways better than today, in that as a broad stroke we had a healthier, or more equitably healthy population than we even do now. Which I think is worth considering when you’re going to go into a debate about whether it’s capitalism versus socialism, well it is a good thing to have a broadly healthy populace, and there is statistical evidence to suggest that that is what we had.
Question 10: One thing I hope we don’t inherit from the spirit of ’45 is the ’47 agriculture.
John H: We don’t want to go back the 1947 Agriculture Act. Can you expand on that a touch?
Questioner: I’m not an expert at all, but there were some fairly unpleasant social consequences of enforcing that act, and also there were some pretty significant facts that we switched ourselves over to our petrochemical agriculture.
John H: That’s a very good point because one thing that hasn’t come up is the ecological aspect of any of this.
Question 11: I just want to say that I think we cannot continue looking for solutions to keep the welfare state, without thinking about the rest of the world. This morning we did a very interesting tour around the City, related to tax avoidance of the big companies. We often wonder what we could do with the money, the taxes they don’t pay. But we rarely think about where this money is coming from. And this money is coming from exploitation of people in, narco in Mexico for example in killing thousands of people a year, Monsanto is taking the land of a lot of people in South America, India, just two months ago we saw more than 1000 people die in Bangladesh, so these are the examples of where the money’s coming from. Looking at what the solution might be, capitalism, nationalisation, a mixed system, I don’t know but I think this system is not sustainable from the ecological point of view, it’s not right from the ethical point of view, and it’s not working from the political point of view. We all, from the developed countries, should think in a more global way, and think about the rest of the world, because this system shouldn’t carry on without human rights for everyone.
Question 13: Just an addition to the previous speaker: we buy from these big companies, shopping is a political act too. And dealing with corporate power and globalisation is the biggest problem that we’ve got. It’s not a particularly political thing, it’s about, when the chief executive of Google can say he doesn’t pay tax, he’s buying from educated people, he’s transporting things on our roads and all the rest of it, he should have to live without that if he’s not prepared to pay the tax.
John H: We have four minutes left. One minute each.
Chris: For me, I start from a worker, the fact that they’re reduced to a commodity. And human beings have to cease being commodities; in order to live they have to sell their labour. I want an economy and a society which is human, cooperative not competitive, and when democracy doesn’t end when you walk through the door to start working. That’s the core of democracy.
Maurice: Capitalism is based on the commodification of human beings and the maximum returns on investment, which can only be resisted in my view by democratic association, that’s the key played by unions and civic self-government. So I think where we’ve got to go to is precisely to assert the non-commodity status of human beings and to build the organisations and relationships necessary to protect the person and the country they live in.
Polly: I wanted to quickly pick up on what the two ladies either side of the room said, which is that we’re playing on a global playing field, so you can’t think about anything in isolation, and on that note I think new models like interest-free, there are all sorts of ethical models coming out, I think it’s great, but I don’t see them making much headway. And I think the main way we can make headway is have politicians who understand the bigger picture, who are willing to put in place structures that are quite bold, including tax structures, that actually do claw back some of the money from those oligarchs.
John C: So far all very good. Obviously coming out of a cooperative movement I think that the cooperative movement is what was missing from this film actually. The labour movement was much, much more than central planning and five year plans. And Britain above all has a very strong tradition of not just retail cooperatives, but cooperatives going back to the 19th century and before. And if you look at the strengths of the German economy, what you were talking about, their cooperative banks have been at the heart of their development at regional level and at local level right the way through from the 19th century, and we should be looking to that cooperative model, not necessarily as a third way but as one more alternative…a better way.
But getting to the point about internationalisation, I think that it is time we revived the spirit of international cooperation because one thing that’s missing from this Spirit of ’45 was also the United Nations, what happened there. They of course won the war, it was the UN that won the war, and then came forward with this idea that we should move forward into an era of international cooperation. And if we want to tackle the Schmidts and all the other tax avoiders we have to arrive at new international rules for taxing multinational companies, which of course is what Tax Justice Network is all about. And to do that we have to revive the spirit of international cooperation that came out of ’45.
John H: Just to build on that with a final comment before we close, there are actually some very inspiring examples from around the world of societies in transition away from capitalism; societies which recognise that that is a long term project. I’m thinking particularly in Latin America in the last decade, thinking about Venezuela with mass nationalization, the taking back of the commanding heights of the economy, mass expansion of cooperatives, from 1000 when Chavez took over in 1997 to 180,000 by the time he died earlier this year. Bolivia, Ecuador; these are experiments with no pre-determined blueprint, experiments which have involved an enormous amount of democratic popular participation. And they offer real signals of hope I think, for around the world. And not just in those places, you get places like Iceland which has already had its own constitutional assembly to rethink the constitution there; you get Tunisia and the Arab Spring and all of that. So there are models of hope which I think we can hold to.
Deborah: This has been a wonderful end to a really great day. On behalf of Tax Justice and Tipping Point I want to thank also our volunteers who helped to make today happen, to our speakers and panellists, thanks a million. It has been a really good day. Keep up to date with Tax Justice and as you are all ending on co-operation, I am thrilled to say we’ve just developed a film about the power of cooperation, which we hoped to get funded over the next year. It has been lovely to have you all. Thank you.
is an academic, social thinker and Labour life peer. He lectures in Political Theory at London Metropolitan University, and is Director of its Faith and Citizenship Programme.
Overview and history of the City of London
This is the Bank of England, that’s the Mansion House where the Lord Mayor lives, with fantastic stained glass windows, double stained glass windows on the Mansion House that tell the whole story. On the one side are the old barons of the Corporation of the City of London holding the knife to King John’s throat at Magna Carta because he was trying to destroy the ancient constitution, and on the other window are the very same barons cutting off Wat Tyler’s head when he tried to challenge their power, and I think you’ve got the whole ambivalence of the history there.
Round the corner, we’ll go to it, is the old City Square. As you know London was founded by the Romans and for round about 1000 years or so it followed the same pattern as other European cities, it was self-governing, it had a guildhall, and guilds were workers organisations, and that sort of thing. But really the story I want to talk about is the relationship between invisible earnings, which is I think the issue at hand, which is the tax system and the money finance capital, and the way that works outside of national jurisdiction, the invisible earnings, and the invisible power of the City.
So the really important story to tell is that round about coming up to the Middle Ages, London went its own way, the City of London went its own way. Now you’ve got to remember that the City of London has got its Common Council, which exists before Parliament, it’s got its Aldermen, the Parliament was based on the City and succeeds the City. So there’s a concept called time immemorial, so in English Law if something is from time immemorial it cannot be changed. And the date of time immemorial is 1191, September 1191, which is the coronation of King Richard I.
Now the really brilliant thing is that the city of London was established in 1189, so they got in there. So they claim that Parliament cannot legislate over the City of London, the City of London precedes Parliament and is not subordinate to Parliament, and what effectively happened, to cut a very long story short, is that the City of London had its ancient laws, and then what it did was it just started kicking out the workers, kicking out the people, and so the most ancient continuous democratic city in Europe, became the actual representative of finance capital. It began to represent Britain’s imperial network. ‘Britons never never never shall be slaves’, that was the maritime economy.
So there was a territorial city, which was Westminster, which governed Britain, and then there was the City of London, which effectively governed the rest of the world according to finance rules. So the East India Company for example didn’t answer to Parliament for the first 150 years of its existence, it answered to the City of London, it was a chartered company from the City of London. That’s a very important part of the story.
So, roughly speaking, how did it happen that the city evaded all political control? Well there were attempts, one important attempt was Charles I tried to enter the city, and to subordinate the city, and said… because the story of what happened in the rest of the world happened in London, there were enclosures, peasants lost their land, they were forced off their land, they also lost their status, through the abolition of the apprenticeship laws, so there were huge refugees coming to London, Whitechapel, Southwark is interesting, Southwark is the first colony, Southwark was ruled by the City of London. People from South London I think still carry the scars of being a colonial people. I say that as someone from Stoke Newington. You meet them and they have that powerlessness and resentment that you always associate with that. Mel absolutely represents that in physical form, and it’s hard to build a common good with that, but we try.
And then Westminster, what the idea was, London should be expanded to become a city, like every other single city in Europe it would expand. The City of London said no, Charles said yes, it’s called the Great Refusal. And then what happened was, Charles went into the city and that was the beginning of the English Civil War. The idea that the monarch could not enter the city armed because the city was a self-governing city, and the city backed Parliament, chopped the king’s head off, chopped Archbishop Lord’s head off, sorted that one out. Then when the king came back, King Charles II, he tried to do it again and asked Quo Warranto?, under whose authority do you rule in the City? And the City resisted that and then, as you know, when he died they invited William and Mary down. So the Glorious Revolution, as it’s known, the fundamental thing about the Glorious Revolution was it said to the City of London, you can have all your rights, all your money, all your hereditaments, all your liberties, in this place, in perpetuity for ever. So that was the settlement. And from then on the City really didn’t look back and the City came to dominate this huge global economy.
Who else other than the British could have an empire that was characterised by free trade imperialism? That was the concept, also known as gentlemanly capitalism; that was the score. And the big issue for us is that the City has effectively stood outside of all legislation, has always promoted the financial interest. For example the Remembrancer, it’s a fantastic concept, the Remembrancer is not the physically oldest lobbyist in the world because I think he’s only in his early 60s, but the Remembrancer was founded in the early 1500s to represent the City’s interests, and to remembrance, to remind Parliament of the rights of the City. Now he’s got very unusual privileges, for example he’s the only person who’s not an MP or Lord who can enter the chamber, and he can brief members on the City’s interest, and he also has a chair directly behind the speaker so he can intervene.
Now the important story moving forward is that the empire grew, the City grew, and finance in Britain was never subordinated to political control. So the story that we’ve got now is a very very old story as well as a very new one.
To push it on, and what we’re going to talk about later, just so you understand where we’re coming from, when I talk about 1945 and the problems of 1945, is that we didn’t do anything about the City, the City remained completely outside of control.
Now they had a couple of bad years when they had to cancel their banquets and, not exactly rations at the Lord Mayor’s banquet but…but that passed, and what happened was the City of London was never given city status, so there’s the LCC, which was established in 1889 to give London some political representation, but notice it was called the London County Council, it was effectively the same governance as applied to a country rather than a city. The City of London retained all of its power. And then came the GLC, the Greater London Council; once again essentially a shanty town representation, of non-city status.
I always say isn’t it weird, Scunthorpe’s a city, Brighton’s a city, London’s not a city. And then the brilliant move came, which coincides with what John’s going to talk about, the Big Bang, which was that then democratic government in the City was abolished, but the City of London remained, so we got the Big Bang. But the important thing that I’m trying to get across to you is that it’s a big block in the understanding, Britain’s called the first national state, the first sovereign state, but it wasn’t, there was always something outside of it, which was the City of London. And also how does capital, how does finance represent its power politically, we’ve got the address, it’s the City of London, it’s the Corporation of the City of London. And they promoted deregulation, they promoted the Eurodollar market, they promoted what’s called the shadow economy, which essentially, you know the old Mafia saying ‘money rolls up shit rolls down’ and that’s essentially the method that the City of London has always used to keep itself going.
The City of London has remained an organised bloc that promotes the interest of capital. What does that mean? That means the maximum return on investment and the minimum possible regulation on its actions. And so what you had and what you have particularly in the last 30 years is the absolute explosion of the power of the City of London, the complete dismantling of any territorial empire but the absolute maintenance of the maritime financial empire in which everything, all the surplus comes back to London where it’s reinvested from this point.
So what I thought would be a really good thing to do today is try to understand that this is not just an economic but a political power, that the political power works through here, so the most ancient democratic…all the guilds, for example, the Guildhall, the Guildhall banquets, no workers are allowed to join the Plumbers’ or the Carpenters’ or the Shoemakers’, they’re all bankers. And capital also needs to have relationships and the relationships are all brokered and built here.
London was the inheritor of the widows’ and orphans’ fund so it’s the richest city authority in the world, and that money is used to promote the financial interest and to lobby. So CityUK was founded by the Corporation of London as a way of spreading that financial lobbying.
So from my side, the political side, I’d like to see a really simple thing, I’d like to see all of London become a City, I’d like to start a campaign that London should be a city, that our Parliament should be in the Guildhall, it doesn’t cause me great pleasure but Boris Johnson, I think he’s got enough room to have affairs in there, enough space for him to do what he does, he’s got enough to feed the needy in that particular venue. So that L reconstitutes itself as a city, a singular city, and through democracy we can limit and control the power of capital.
For further information on the history of City of London, read the speaker’s essay ‘A Tale of Two Cities‘ [PDF].
is an investigating economist. He has advised many government and inter-government agencies as well as NGOs, unions and other civil society organisations. Since 1978 he has specialised in the role of tax havens in the global economy. He is currently executive director of the Tax Justice Network.
Well you just heard from Maurice that the City of London Corporation is no ordinary organisation, and the institution behind me is no ordinary central bank. The Bank of England was founded as a private bank in 1694, it was nationalised in 1946, and in 1997 the incoming Labour government gave it independence on monetary policy. But it has never really been a public institution working for public service. It is, in fact, a private bank that has largely served the interests of the City of London from the outset, and in many respects I would argue that the Bank of England is the author of most of the problems we face.
We can trace a line from 1946, from its nationalisation, through to 2008 and the collapse of the banking system in Britain, and say that the Bank of England must claim much of the responsibility for what’s gone wrong. But I want to talk about one thing in particular, that is the Bank of England’s role in promoting Britain’s tax haven empire.
What happened in 1946 with nationalisation was the Bank of England retained all of its key powers, above all its power to appoint its most senior official. We the people have never had any power whatsoever to get rid of the governor, or the deputy governor, and virtually every single senior official from the Bank of England, from the start, from 1946 onwards, has come out of the City of London. So the Bank of England is in fact the bastion of the interests of the City of London. And as you can see here, the dream, was to revert back to those glorious days of the British Empire when the City of London was a totally independent and liberal organisation; in other words no government controls whatsoever. That was the dream.
And importantly, right from the start the Bank of England set itself up as a subversive organisation. It started to fund a very low profile organisation called the Mont Pelerin Society. And its economists, that is economists from the Bank of England and other British economists, right from the start got involved with the Mont Pelerin Society, and the Bank of England was actually funding the Mont Pelerin Society. For those of you not familiar with the Mont Pelerin Society, we know it and love in the form of the Cato Institute, and the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the Heritage Foundation, and a whole raftload of neo-liberal economists who have taken over not only the leading economic institutes, the think-tanks, but who successfully managed to launch the Thatcher government. In other words his project, the project of the Bank of England, was to fund the reversion to liberal thinking – with a difference, because they saw the role of the state and of the central bank as being to promote the interests of private capital.
Now something happened as the formal British Empire came to an end in 1955, 1956, something happened in this institution behind us which no one has paid very much attention to. They did a deal with an institution over there, Midland Bank, what was Midland Bank, now part of HSBC, and that deal was to allow Midland Bank to start issuing bonds denominated in dollars. Sometime between 1955 and 1956 this deal was done. There’s no written record of it whatsoever, we’ve been through the archive. But the purpose of this deal was to allow British banks to start collecting deposits from around the world in dollars and other currencies which sat outside the regulatory framework. So the Bank of England was saying you can collect these deposits, we won’t regulate it, you can collect them wherever you wish, and hold them wherever you wish, and this was the creation of the first real, serious offshore market. Because these dollars weren’t regulated. Needless to say they flooded in from around the world, from all over the world, from the Middle East, petrodollars, from Latin America, from Africa, they flooded into London. And this was the start of the emergence, re-emergence of the City of London as the capital of capital.
Because suddenly, we had a totally unregulated market, and a very profitable market for British banks like Midland. So profitable that they decided that rather than hold these dollars and do these activities here in London, it would be better to do it in Bermuda, or in Jersey, or in the Caymans, because then they wouldn’t have to pay tax on the profits. So this was the start of the re-emergence of London as a gigantic tax haven, the preeminent tax haven.
So for those of us who think that neoliberalism really kicked off in the 1980s with Mrs Thatcher’s Big Bang in 1986, actually I think we need to trace it back to 1955, ‘56, and the re-emergence of this Eurodollar market. And the scale of that market is absolutely enormous. It runs to trillions of dollars being traded every single day of the week, completely unregulated. And it was the Bank of England that chose to allow this unregulated market to emerge in the 1950s; they saw this as almost a second empire project, Britain’s opportunity to reassert its primacy in financial services, in insurance and so on.
When you look through the records, you find that not only did the Bank of England choose to turn a blind eye to the Eurodollar market here, importantly at that time in the 50s, the 60s and right the way through to the end of the 70s, they were responsible for regulation of the banks operating in the offshore tax havens, like Jersey, Guernsey, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and so on. And importantly when you look through the archives, you realise that right from the start they took a decision to not regulate the banks offshore. Now I’ve got personal experience of this, I was economic adviser to the government of Jersey and regularly visited the Bank of England, and it was clear they had no interest whatsoever, as long as it didn’t happen here in London, they didn’t want to know about regulation in places like Jersey or Guernsey, precisely because they knew that served the interests of their clients, that is the banks operating from here. So they turned a blind eye to all the monkey business, and that continues right the way through.
Now this week we’ve heard the outgoing governor of the Bank of England speaking on Desert Island Discs, saying that they had no idea about all the different risks that were building up in the financial markets from the 1990s onwards, ‘don’t blame us’, he said, ‘no one else had any idea’. Well the reason why no one had any serious idea about the scale of the risks, and the nature of the risks, is precisely because way back in the 1950s the Bank of England chose not to regulate the activities of the banks operating in these offshore tax havens.
And worse still, and this is a fascinating memorandum which I found when I began my research in the late 1980s in the archives here underneath this building, it was clear that from the early 1960s onwards colonial officials working in some of the offshore centres in the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands and so on, were sending signals to the Bank of England: ‘please help us, we know there’s all sorts of financial wizardry happening here, we’re not equipped to handle it, please send advisers’. But memoranda like this one were left totally ignored. The Bank of England chose to do nothing about it. And why did they choose to do nothing about it? Because their clients, that is the big London banks, wanted nothing to happen.
So for those of you who think that the Bank of England has been serving public interest, either for Britain or for the rest of the world, over the last 60 years, the harsh message is not at all. The Bank of England has been serving the interests of its clients, that is City of London, the major banks, the major law firms, all of whom have created this wonderful world of offshore tax havens, which our Prime Minister is now committed to closing down. Good luck!
is Business Correspondent of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Associate Communications Director of the Financial Transparency Coalition. Previously, was ten years Business Correspondent at the Guardian and Observer writing on a range of finance, political, business and economic issues.
I also work for something called the Financial Transparency Coalition, which Robert over there is a member of. And we are a bunch of NGOs working for financial transparency, does what it says on the tin.
Now, it’s lunchtime and I don’t know if any of you are hungry? Well inside here is probably the finest banqueting food that you could wish to have actually. The roasted meats and the finest wines are rolled out for international heads of state and politicians and the Lord Mayor, every year, invites the Chancellor to outline his vision for the financial future of our country and the role of Britain in a global financialised world.
And it’s really about trying to keep the City of London preeminent in the global economy. That, essentially, is what the City wants to hear. And that’s what Chancellors, George Osborne, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown in particular, going back through the post-war period, that’s what the Aldermen and the Councillors all want to hear. And in this atmosphere of adulation and lots of alcohol which greases that idea of intoxicating power, these politicians are complimented. And that is the soft power of the lobby, the financial lobby, it’s such a welcoming, generously spirited atmosphere.
I once was inside there for an Association of London Government banquet, and where Boris actually washed his hair and blow-dried it. It was that important. He wasn’t looking scruffy. He looked very pukka. And he was doing it because he was telling the City what they wanted to hear. And Maurice is right, the idea that the City is a fixed entity. Nothing must change as long as the City is on that track. That’s what it’s all about. And we’ve seen in the financial crisis that nothing actually has changed. And in a sense that’s what the City wants.
It’s very hard to define lobbying, and the size and scale of the financial lobby. So Mel Newman, my colleague, and me, and one other colleague, last year, we wanted to find out the size and scale of the financial lobby. So we looked at lots of legislation. We looked at who was responding to consultation papers, and swept in, loads of organisations. We wanted to find out how many people they employed. How much was their lobbying budget. Some of them told us. We looked at the public affairs agencies and public relations agencies that also offer public affairs services. Some of them told us how much they spent. How many people were employed. Some of them didn’t. We created a methodology for those companies that wouldn’t cooperate as to how much a typical public affairs worker was worth. And we got that peer reviewed by academics. We took a very conservative approach. And we came up with the conclusion that there are about 129 organisations that are actively working to influence financial regulation in the City. And they employ close to 1000 people. And they’ve got a financial war chest of 93 million pounds that’s purely spent on lobbying. When you think about the budgets available to other industrial sectors. Whether it’s the pharmaceuticals, the creative industry, or people who just want to see social progress and economic justice, I think that 93 million pounds puts all of those sectors in the shade. In fact I don’t think if you put all of them together you would get to that budget.
So out of all those organisations we ordered them in rank and there are lot of them like the Association of Financial Markets in Europe which has got a lot of money. It’s around about 9 million pounds, the Bank of England has a public affairs unit, and all sorts of other organisations, lots of industry regulating groups. But the organisation with the deepest pockets and the best resources was…the City of London.
They also have an amazing research unit. And what politicians need if they’re going argue the case for anything is they want firm evidence, they want those bullet points and headlines to be able to grasp hold of like driftwood to be able to make that case. And the City of London’s research unit is fantastic.
And what we’re seeing at the moment, a very large debate at the moment is with the financial transaction tax, the Robin Hood tax. This has been a campaign that’s been running for 30 years and it’s just beginning to come to fruition. In January a few countries in Europe started and said yes, “We’re going to do this. “ And in January, that’s when the research from the City and other organisations went into overdrive so every week there is another research paper saying that the financial transaction tax will decimate European markets. It will close down the European economy at the worst time, and the politicians are buying it now. So from what was a brave and bold move to try and see some redistribution. That would see the sectors that caused the financial crisis actually contribute to fixing it, is now in danger of being very much squeezed down.
And that is where we’re seeing the financial lobby right at the moment actively at work and being successful and it obviously needs neutering quite considerably.
Now the City of London obviously isn’t the only lobby group and it’s not the only way that you can lobby, by hospitality and research. The other fantastic way is by buying political parties. We know that’s the case. We know it instinctively, and two years ago Mel and my organisation, we tried to track exactly how much money the City of London organisations and related entities was contributing to the Conservative party, and we went back to when David Cameron became leader in 2005, and we tracked exactly, on a year by year basis, how much money the City was contributing to the Conservative party donations.
And again, going back to the financial transaction tax, one of the reasons why they bought into that, and it’s very clear in various stings we’ve seen, in the Sunday Times, on spread-bet tycoons, someone called Peter Cruddas. The thing that they were most concerned about was stopping that particular tax and that’s why they’re buying policy positions. Peter Cruddas told the Sunday Times journalist, that David Cameron told him he had nothing to worry about with the FTT. That was recorded. That was completely, blatantly naked. Incidentally he last week won a legal battle against the Sunday Times clearing him of any wrongdoing. There was and is no suggestion Cruddas did anything illegal.
So I suppose the thing to remember is what the City of London is trying to, what Maurice was saying is totally true in terms of what the lobbying agenda is: nothing changes. Nothing changes. We’ve had the financial crisis, the worst crisis for 80 years. After the Wall Street crisis we had the New Deal in America. We had public sector spending on very valuable infrastructure projects. The 30s recession maybe contributed somewhat to the creation of the NHS. That might be a link too far, I don’t know, someone cleverer than me can say that. But in this financial crisis we have actually seen nothing like that. So I think it’s beholden on campaigners and everyone else to try and kick through that and try and create a vision and an alternative agenda so that we actually do see some change and subvert the financial lobby.
is a campaigner for Global Witness, a Nobel prize nominated organisation dedicated to breaking the links between natural resources, conflict and corruption. He is an expert in the global anti-money laundering framework and his work focuses on the role that the financial system can play in facilitating corruption and other crimes.
So my name’s Rob Palmer, and I work for an NGO research advocacy group called Global Witness. And we look at the links between natural resources, so oil, gas, mining, diamonds, timber, and corruption and conflict. So we look at how natural resources that could provide real money for development in some of the poorest countries in the world – Congo, Zimbabwe, Cambodia etc., how all too often that money ends up in the back pocket of politicians and doesn’t end up providing services for the poorest people in that country. So one of the things that I want to talk about today is the role that the City of London and some of the major banks here in the UK play in keeping poor countries poor by allowing corrupt politicians to stash their looted assets in their accounts here in London.
Now there’s a reason why we’re standing outside HSBC. From the ‘90s, 2000s, we’ve had a series of scandals involving HSBC bank funding, fuelling, facilitating conflict, corruption and environmental destruction. So for example, Sani Abacha, dictator of Nigeria in the 1990s, he had huge amounts of cash, almost a billion pounds in cash, in banks in the UK including in HSBC. Several years later, after that had been exposed and, incidentally the banks had gone totally unpunished for taking his money, two other Nigerian state governors are also found to have had money in HSBC. More recently, yet another corrupt Nigerian politician who’s currently serving 13 years in jail in the UK for money laundering, as is his wife, lawyer, sister and mistress, he was also found to have brought money through HSBC.
But what we really need to make banks like HSBC – and it’s not just HSBC, there are other banks out there, a lot of other banks out there that are willing to do business with these sorts of regimes – what we need is strong regulation, we need strong personal accountability, we need someone on the board of these banks that is personally responsible for making sure that dodgy money, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion, don’t happen through those banks. But corruption and money laundering is not just about the banks that are willing to take the money.
It’s also about the secrecy that allows corrupt politicians, tax evaders, money launderers, to hide what they’re doing. And the classic way of doing this is to create a complicated company structure; it’s like a Russian doll, one company, within another company, within another company, with fake directors, fake shareholders, stretching across different tax havens across the world. This is all entirely legal. It is entirely legal to create a complicated company structure to hide your identity.
If you fake a passport you go to jail for five years if you’re caught. And yet you can create an anonymous shell company for relatively little money, and hide your identity. Global Witness has actually put out an Idiot’s Guide to Money Laundering [PDF] that details exactly how to do this, and I have some copies for any budding money launderers in the audience. The solution that we think, is that we need much more transparency and information available about who is behind companies that are operating in the UK, in the US and in tax havens, all over the world in fact. And again, there is some positive news.
Whatever you think about our government here in the UK, they have made a commitment that they want to open up information about who is behind companies, they have backed the NGO civil society call to have existing company registers collect and publish information on the ultimate owners and controllers of companies. This will be really transformational and make it much harder for corrupt politicians to hide their identity and their dodgy assets behind shell companies, make it much harder for tax evasion to take place, would be much better ensuring we have some corporate accountability. This is at the top of the agenda at the G8 next week in Northern Ireland. However sadly a number of the other G8 countries are not being as progressive and are really blocking these moves.
So one of the things we at Global Witness are doing over the next week, along with Tax Justice Network and civil society around the world, is really trying to put pressure on governments to open up information about who is behind companies. So to finish, I do think we are seeing some positive progress, but there is a lot more that needs to be done, to make it a lot harder to corrupt politicians and tax evaders to use banks like HSBC, and we need much more transparency over who owns these shell companies.
is a grassroots activist for the past 7 years on local, national and international issues. In October 2010, he and two other friends decided to put their experience of civil disobedience protest to the issue of public sector cuts by protesting against tax avoidance. From that conversation UK Uncut was born. To put bread on the table, Tom does his best to make documentary and campaign films.
Hello everyone, my name is Tom, and I’m one of the people that started UK Uncut in 2010. For those who don’t know UK Uncut was a street based movement that decided they wanted to talk about austerity, protest against austerity by talking about tax avoidance, and talking about alternatives. We didn’t just want to be positioned on the left, talking about things that we didn’t want, we wanted to talk about things that we did want. And we wanted to talk about tax avoidance, we felt that tax avoidance provided a real alternative to austerity.
The research figures that said the UK was losing up to 25 billion pounds a year from tax avoiding companies and rich individuals. We set about first targeting Vodafone, then Topshop, Boots, and other famous brands on the high street. The reason we went after companies, and not the government, was a) because we wanted it to be a national movement, and the government is primarily based in London, and that companies are on every single high street all across the country, and that that way thousands of people in all their locations can get involved wherever they are. So we had up to 50 different locations, 50 different actions in 50 different Topshop stores.
The second reason that we targeted companies is that we could create a story, we could create good guys and bad guys and in campaigning terms that can work quite well, the media can really run with that, the media really want to see bad people. And Philip Green, the head of Topshop, was that bad guy, and that’s how we drove the campaign forward. But throughout that process we were thinking well really we need to be targeting the government, because they’re the ones that set the rules. And in a way we do agree that avoiding your tax is a moral issue, but at the same time companies aren’t the ones making the rules and that it is up to government to clamp down on them. But, targeting government in a creative way is quite difficult. We couldn’t really come up with any particularly creative ways, other than taking them to court, which isn’t very creative, but… it was really good.
The story of how we took the tax office to court, HMRC, lies with Goldman Sachs behind us, Goldman Sachs being of course one of the world’s most renowned investment banks. In the 1990s Goldman set up a company called Goldman Sachs Services in the British Virgin Islands, where it bought into a structure called employee benefit trusts, in order to avoid tax on the bonuses it was paying to its employees. 21 other companies also bought into that tax avoidance structure. Earlier in the 2000s HMRC investigated this deal and decided that it was actually potentially illegal. In 2005 a court judge ruled that that structure was illegal, and that any company involved in that structure should pay all the tax back. 21 companies involved in the structure said, ok, fair enough, we’ve been caught, here’s all the money; one company decided that it was going to fight HMRC.
That company was Goldman Sachs, and for another five years it fought in the courts to not pay the tax that the court had ruled should be paid. So that was costing again public money in terms of lawyers, I can tell you HMRC lawyers are not cheap. Then in the end of 2010 a man called Mr Dave Hartnett, who is the head of the tax office – the tax office in the UK is the only department that is non-ministerial, so there is no MP that sits at the head of the tax office, it’s a civil servant, and as a civil servant at the head of the tax office he’d lived a fairly quiet life, probably not particularly well known to the public. Anyway his job as head of the tax office was to meet with these companies and create settlements. So a policy that HMRC had was that if in the instance that a company is fighting you for a long period of time it is perhaps in the interests of HMRC and to get more tax out of them, is to simply just meet them and make a deal. So in the end of 2010 Dave Hartnett walked into a meeting with Goldman Sachs and he came out having a deal.
The deal was the Goldman Sachs would pay the tax that they owed, but they would not pay the interest owed. We only found out at the end of 2011 that this occurred, thanks to whistleblowing by a lawyer called Osita Mba; he was later disciplined and suspended for revealing the information to the Public Accounts Committee.
It was thought that about 10-20 million pounds was lost to the British taxpayer, so have a moment to think about what could be done with 10-20 million pounds. So that’s what was lost. So we only found out that this had occurred in November 2011, and we took immediate legal action. Unfortunately public law means that you can only really target government procedure. So we simply took the fact that they’d settled this deal and we had to test whether the way that they settled it was legal or not legal.
The only way we could get the money back was by the lawyers arguing that the way they settled it was illegal, not the fact that they settled was illegal, but the procedure that they went through. And we went to the High Court, unfortunately we lost about two or three weeks ago. But I think what we did win was that Dave Hartnett had to resign, not simply because of our court case, but I think partly we contributed to his resignation, the Public Accounts Committee were hot on his heels and I think this was probably the last straw for him, and he resigned. A new head of HMRC has come in and I hope, and our barrister, she used to be a barrister for HMRC, she said that the court case as well as many other things has really changed opinion in HMRC. We had a lot of whistleblowers in HMRC calling us and giving us advice; generally the lay staff were fully on board with it and the hierarchy within HMRC were, I think she phrased it as being a lot more careful about the way that they operate with big companies.
The issue of tax settlement will probably still continue but I think it really put tax settlement on the agenda. People don’t really know that HMRC actually negotiates with these companies. If you owe tax, you have to pay your tax, you can’t negotiate, you can’t ring them up and have a meeting like these companies who have the ability to negotiate down their tax bill.
So very quickly, I’m delighted we’ve got here because so few people who come to London ever come to this place, and this place is the ancient city square of London. When the Romans were here, here was the amphitheatre. And here is the Guildhall, which is where Oliver Cromwell and John Pym escaped from Parliament to avoid capture by the king.
Inside the Guildhall, which I’m sure we won’t be allowed to go into, there’s a really big statue of George Washington because when Britain declared war on the United States when they seceded, the City of London in fact supported the United States army. They sent money, they employed Alexander Hamilton’s son, he worked at the Bank of England.
So in fact the really key to power, the two key things to power are that when you break the law you don’t get into trouble, that’s a very important indicator of when you’re in power. So effectively the City of London committed treason, and life went on. The other really important thing is that if you default on your mortgage, you lose your home; when they defaulted on their mortgage, we gave them all our money. That’s another key indicator of power in the world.
So this Guildhall is the ancient city parliament of London, it was established in 1189. The motto of the city is Domine Dirige Nos, which could be translated as God Is Our Guide, or could be translated as We Dominate You. It all depends on whether you go with the King James Version of the Bible or the modern translation. And so this was in effect the market square, the centre of London, all of these churches that you see…
When William the Conqueror came to London, it’s an important story, he stopped at the gates, he was met by the Bishop and by a guy called the Portreeve, which was the Saxon word essentially for Mayor. Chief porter, head porter, would be probably…because the city used to regulate the docks. And he stopped at the gates of the City and he allowed, the rest of the country was conquered but London wasn’t. So London could keep English language courts, it could keep common law, it became the centre of the place. And hustings, the whole idea of hustings developed in the city for elections.
And each of these churches, this was St Lawrence Jewry, where the old Jews used to live before they were in fact expelled, but that’s a different story that I won’t tell today. Every area of London was divided up into a ward, and every ward had a church. And those churches used to be workers’ churches; they each were associated with a guild. But when they abolished workers the churches remained essentially in each ward.
And that green door over there is a really important one. This was called the Irish Society, so a very important way that the City of London dealt with its unwanted population was it sent them to Ireland, and particularly set up the town of Londonderry. That was a very important part of the story. It was the beginning of the American colonization in a way, a way of getting the excess of population that had come to London out, and a very key part of that initially was under King James, the colonization of Ireland. And that’s why the Ulstermen still walk on their parades with a bowler hat and an umbrella, that’s a direct nod to the City. And what you’ll notice is it’s completely bounded, it’s virtually invisible, so let’s imagine a day when we could all come, have a cup of coffee here and this can be our centre of self-government in London.
I’m the director of War on Want, and it’s my pleasure and privilege to round off this beautiful tour in the sunshine, in front of TheCityUK, and in a way this is a nice envelope within which to put the whole of the tour. It picks up exactly where Maurice started us earlier on. Because TheCityUK is the premier lobby group, the premier promoter of financial services, and what the City of London stands for and what it hopes to gain, not just in this country but across the whole world. And TheCityUK is actually a very young body, it’s only three years old, a toddler, but its history for our purposes goes back a little bit earlier.
So I want to take you back in time to the 1960s, a time maybe a little bit before public relations, before the PR industry really got going. And they were trying to find a body which was going to represent the interests of the financial services industry, and the banks, and all of the other bits of the services that Britain was seeing become more and more important in its economy. And so they called this body British Invisibles, which wouldn’t work very well now as a sort of thrusting name, like Executive, or TheCityUK. But in those days it was called British Invisibles. And the idea is that invisibles was the old technical term, again Maurice mentioned this right at the beginning, for financial services, investments, the services industry and particularly those bits coming out of London.
British Invisibles had a twofold role, one was to maximize the accumulation of capital in the City by ensuring that there would be minimum regulation, and the other, which is absolutely critical from the point of view of all forms of capital but especially finance capital, was to expand markets overseas. When you’ve super saturated your own market, you need to be looking for other ones. And capital is like a bicycle, it can’t stand still, it will otherwise fall over so it has to keep expanding.
British Invisibles as a name was a bit 20th century so at the beginning of the 21st century it was rebranded as International Financial Services London, or IFSL for the catchy acronym, and you can see why it’s going to head towards TheCityUK in a minute because of that. And IFSL very much took up the role of promoting the interests of the City in Britain and across the world. And it was in response to the 2007 crash that the City basically said, ‘we have got an image problem’. And anyway, as a result they gave birth to TheCityUK as the new body which was going to promote the interests of the City.
And I want to look at two little bits of it. One is the regulatory strategy group, which again Mel, who everybody has referred to the whole way through as having done all the research on this, and I did say she would actually be better standing here, but I’m going to be speaking as her ventriloquist in this little bit. Basically the regulatory strategy group is a perfect example of where you get a lobby group from the City which links in very, very closely with government, you have the revolving door, people who worked at the Treasury, at UK Trade & Investment, even the Ministry of Defence going round and round and round in its circles. So basically the City and Government gets very blurred together. And they press for a minimal regulatory regime in this country and also across the world. And I think that you should really read the Bureau of Investigative Journalism stuff on this if you want to take it any further; and I also recommend you go to TheCityUK’s own website, which is a very, very interesting place to find out about lots of things which you didn’t know about the City.
But the last bit I want to really focus on to tie us up is another bit of this whole story, which perhaps takes us a little bit further, where lobbying actually becomes something else. And that’s because all the way through from the days of British Invisibles, into IFSL, into TheCityUK, there’s been this group called the LOTIS Committee, which very few people have heard of. LOTIS as in L O T I S, not lotus which you eat and forget things and all that, but LOTIS Committee. And it stands for Liberalization of Trade in Services. And the liberalization of trade in services is the structural way in which finance capital expands into markets across the world, by being able to force open markets which were previously closed to it.
And the very interesting thing about the LOTIS Committee is it wasn’t set up as an informal lobbying meeting between capital and the state; it was set up as a formal meeting of capital and state; an intertwining of capital and state. So that it’s no longer the City as one body lobbying the British government, but actually the two of them together, making UK trade policy in the interests of finance capital. So it’s a very different, a very unique thing; because what that means is that when the City meets around the table with government, it’s not from the outside lobbying in, it’s actually working to create the rules which we all then have to deal with the consequences of.
And for those of you who like the sort of political theory bit of this, you may have read Ralph Miliband, father of Ed and David, his stuff on the state in capitalist society and challenging the whole idea, originally the Marxist idea was that you’d have the state captured by capital, and then there was more nuanced ideas of this, Poulantzas’ theory of the relative autonomy of the state, having its own life and its own interests, and then Ralph Miliband tying it together very nicely at the end of his life with this idea that the state and capital are in partnership, a fluid partnership which changes over time but is basically some form of shared interest.
What the LOTIS Committee says is that actually those interests are identical and they’re set up formally to be identical in the projection of power across the world and the projection of capital’s interests across the world. And one of the ways in which they did this from the 1980s, is that they launched a massive offensive to get services trade included within the global trade rules.
Since the Second World War global trade rules had basically been about trading goods: steel, clothes, computers, cars, whatever you like; trading in goods across the world and what tariff barriers they meet when they go into another country, what taxes you have to pay if you’ve exported a kilogram of beans from Mexico to the United States or from China to the EU. And what the services lobby did was they basically pushed for the next round, the Uruguay round of trade talks between 1986 and 1994, to move on from that, so instead of just being trade in things, it was trade in services as well. And trade in services is, you’re not just talking about things crossing borders like that, you’re talking about how you run your social services, your economy, things like that; health, water, education ,architecture, finance, insurance, all of these things were included. And as a result of that success, from their point of view, when the WTO was set up, the World Trade Organisation in 1995, it included within it services. So instead of just being goods trade, now you’ve got services trade and the whole dictation about how we run our own economies behind the border.
And what was really fascinating was that as people became more and more aware of the threats that are posed by having this liberalization of trade in services across the world, people began to rise up against it. If you were around in 1999, you remember the massive demonstrations in Seattle against the attempt to launch a new round of the WTO, and indeed the services trade within it, the General Agreement on Trade and Services, GATS, many of us in those days were involved in a big campaign against GATS, against the spread of services liberalization.
The LOTIS Committee was beavering away all this time trying to ensure that they could get to grips with the rising tide of anger and at one beautiful moment about 10 years ago now, somebody was spending rather too much time in front of their computer, googling around and trying to find what was inside the website of what was at that time IFSL, and they found out that the LOTIS Committee meeting minutes, which were usually completely secret and behind a security firewall, a whole lot of them had been put on the wrong bit of the IFSL site. And so this person downloaded three years’ worth of the minutes of the LOTIS Committee, and then made them all available for us all to see. And I recommend you do see them, go onto the gatswatch site, and they’re still all there. And they were absolutely fascinating because they showed you the minutes of government and the City working together.
And they were saying, ‘how can we fight against these wretched, pesky, civil society, NGO types who’ve started this battle against GATS, against the WTO?’ And this wonderful bit, where you get the guy who was representing what was then the DTI, the Department of Trade and Industry, now BIS, saying, ‘well we believe that we can come together with you and find clever way to undermine their argument’, and then IFSL said, ‘well we’re going to put out a really good report explaining how important services liberalization is across the world’. And what I really love about that is not the fact they were bringing out this report, but they said, ‘we reckon this is going to cost us between 50 and 70 thousand pounds to write this report’. And you think, ‘my God I’m cheap, I usually do these things for 40p and a cup of coffee!’ So they did this report, and they made all these things.
But what was also fascinating was that part of debate which we never really hear about, and I think there’s still a lot of research and a book to be written about this, was that the Reuters representative in this meeting said, ‘we’re absolutely with you on this and when you’ve provided this research we’ll make sure it gets out through all of our networks and floods into the media’. And this is an untold story about the complicity of the media with capital.
But as I say, this is a really interesting example of when you get finance capital and the state, no longer as two units in some form of competing partnership or changing partnership, but they fuse into one. And again the last thing I wanted to say on this again comes back to Mel and her research, having done an FOI challenge which found out that, as a result of minutes that had been released, liberated, from TheCityUK, that they feel that their reputation over the last three years has been rehabilitated, their role and their presence within government has been revalidated and all is OK with the world. So that folks, I think, is what you call capitalism.