Notes From the Margins…

From Panama With Love

  • April 10, 2016
  • by

In a democratic society there are times when one can put politics aside, and be magnanimous in victory or gracious in defeat.   There are moments when you may be tempted to be generous towards even your bitterest political enemies, and even to show empathy with them, when they suffer personal tragedy, or when they or their families are attacked unfairly or subjected to physical violence.

Panamagate is most definitely not one of those moments.   This is not a time for peace, love and understanding.   It is not a time to assert our common humanity even with those who disagree with us.

It is absolutely not the time to show any sympathy or empathy with David Cameron. It’s true that Tory Central Office is working overtime to persuade the public to accept that Lord Snooty’s slippery account of his involvement in his father’s financial affairs was motivated by a ‘very human’ attempt to protect his family.

We should no more fall for that one, than so many of us once fell for the cuddly Cameron who used to ride to central office on a bike and wanted us all to hug hoodies.  Because this is the moment when karma has bitten Lord Snooty right on his pampered backside, the moment when the leader of one of the most brutal and inept governments in the history of the country has been well and truly hoisted by his own petard, and we should do everything we can to make sure it’s hauled up even higher.

This is the time to wake with a spring in our steps to the sound of the  Animaniacs, as Lord Snooty heads for the rubbish heap of history and a new Downfall video.

Because this isn’t just a question of hypocrisy, although  a man who condemns tax avoidance in others as morally wrong and benefits from it himself is certainly a Grade A hypocrite.   And a man who tells the nation that ‘we’re all in together’ and hails the advent of the Big Society while forcing nearly a million people to depend on foodbanks is a hypocrite too.   So we can only celebrate the fact that Cameron has been weakened and diminished.  But it isn’t even the simple pleasures of schadenfreude – though these are not to be spurned when we are dealing with the leader of one of the most brutal governments in British history.

But Cameron is so much more than a mere hypocrite.  His government’s policies have made people poor and poorer and made them homeless.  In the name of austerity  his government  has inflicted savage welfare cuts that have actually driven people to their deaths.   Pretending to be a responsible leader taking ‘tough choices’, Cameron’s governments have  used the economic crisis as a pretext for privatisations and brutalist shock therapy aimed at transferring wealth to corporations and individuals who make use of the same mechanisms that his father did, many of whom belong to the sleazy, slippery world revealed in the Panama Papers.

This is the world  where gangsters, soccer stars, autocrats, and Surrey stockbrokers mingle.   It’s a world that includes Russian oligarchs and Tory politicians; a world where you can find  Ariel Sharon’s former advisor Dov Weissglass, the man who once defined the Gaza blockade as an attempt to ‘put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger’ – and Tareq Abbas, son of Mahmoud Abbas, who owns $1 in shares in an offshore company registered to the Palestinian Authority.

It’s a world where you can find Assad’s bagman Rami Makhlouf, Simon Cowell, and Lionel Messi, all united by a single overriding aim – to keep as much of their wealth for themselves as they possibly can, regardless of what happens to the countries they come from.

They belong to the international community of money – perhaps the only authentic borderless community in the 21st century.    But many of the world leaders who have profited from Mossack Fonseca’s services have also acted within their national borders as instruments of financial capital, in imposing austerity on their own populations, but not themselves.

Take Peter Poroshenko, the Ukrainian Prime Minister,  who has won the praise of the IMF for imposing a draconian shock therapy program on his own people, which has reduced social income support expenditures, frozen the minimum wage, cut public-sector wages, and raised energy tariffs by as much as 56 percent.  This is the Poroshenko who pledged to sell his chocolate business before he was elected.  Instead he got  Mossack Fonseca to set up an offshore holding company in the British Virgin Islands two months after his election, thereby saving himself millions of dollars.

A neat game if you’re rich enough to play it, and plenty of people are.  Like Argentina’s millionaire president Mauricio Macri, who defeated Cristina Kirchner last year on a neoliberal, anti-corruption platform.   Since he came to power in December last year, Macri  has slashed the education budget by half, and  laid off 14,000 public sector workers, the first of a projected 60,000 -200,000 layoffs.  Those who have protested these policies have been attacked by police with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

Yet now the Panama Papers have revealed that Macri didn’t declare two trading companies when he was Mayor of Buenos Aires.

Lord Snooty and His Pals belong firmly to this tradition, so now is not the time to shake our heads and say he’s done nothing illegal.  It’s not a question of illegality – yet.   It’s a question of politics, and a time to challenge the politics that have been imposed on us for so long, in which a wealthy elite spirits away its wealth while taking wealth away from the ‘little people’.

So let’s not detain ourselves for longer than a microsecond on the fraudulent opportunist Boris Johnson’s puerile and offensive   of the super-rich as a ‘put-upon minority’.  Johnson would like us to ‘  stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.’

I say no, no, and no again.   Now is the time to keep up the pressure and pile on the criticism, to express all the outrage, mockery and contempt that we can muster towards politicians like Cameron, Macri and Poroshenko, who would impoverish the rest of us even as they enrich themselves.   Now is the time to celebrate the latest nail that Lord Snooty has just nailed into his political coffin, and remember the £50 notes that he and his mates once burned in front of the homeless.

Now is the time to sing along with the Animaniacs:

High lock, up goes the ship
Low lock, the ship takes a dip
First they raise the water level
Then lower it again
‘Cross the Panama Canal
It’s real easy

We pass the locks, with good moral
Forty miles on the Panama Canal
The crew yells out, ‘Thank you, Hal’
Forty miles on the Panama Canal


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  1. Nik

    13th Apr 2016 - 1:24 pm

    Matt, Matt, Matt… after so many years of reading your blog we have our first disagreement! The leaks are all about Putin for heavens sake. Haven’t you read the initial headlines? Putin, Putin and again Putin. He isn’t personally named once in those documents but that just goes to show how clever he is. Those other cases are just footnotes to the overwhelming evidence pointing to the New Zar’s evil network of money-hiding friends and of course his personal involvement in large scale crime. So please note: It is Putin’s Canal!

    All the other Names you mentioned are but tiny details which surely can be explained away or are simply misunderstandings. By pointing your finger towards his highness Lord Snooty you are showing that you are a true Putinversteher hoping for a slice of Ukraine…

    • Matt

      15th Apr 2016 - 7:49 am

      Nik, you’ve found me out. I might have guessed I couldn’t get this past you. Yes, I am a Putinversteher, even though the word doesn’t slip easily off an Englishman’s tongue. In fact I receive a monthly cheque from the Kremlin for my services. I tried to resist it, but there’s something about laundered roubles and barechested men with rifles who go around shooting bears that just wipes out what little moral fibre I have left. So when I got the orders to turn the spotlight on His Lordship…the rest is history.

      • Nik

        15th Apr 2016 - 6:58 pm

        I just happen to recognize a Putinista when I see it. I sense the spirit of the russian bear is rather strong with you. In order to cure your acute condition of Putinism I suggest 3 english breakfasts a day while singing Rule Britannia at the top of your voice. And before bedtime I recommend kissing a portrait of his Lordship! I hope this will help you repent and understand and interpret the true meaning of world affairs.

  2. mike

    24th Apr 2016 - 2:41 am

    Well, this lively exchange of Putinisms cannot go without comment! I suggest that you move a part of any ill gotten gains you might have far from Panama and into the Swedish taxman’s remit, by heading for Stockholm during the gay pride marches (in August). There you will encounter the Swedish Bear Movement, a noble cause if ever there was one. A bunch of guys who dress up as bears, hop on trucks and zoom off into the woody wastelands in search of THE REAL THING. Just like Putin in fact. I wonder if he dresses up as a bear in his idle moments. There’s something about the Russians and those furry hats that has always aroused ny suspicions. Anyway, I hope his ill gotten gains are tracked down and that he rots in a debtor’s prison (unlikely) in the afterlife.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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