The thing that most amuses me about the Panama scandal is that so many people act as if they’re surprised by it. For as long as I can remember, politicians and celebrities and businessmen have been avoiding/dodging/evading tax. It’s sort of the wallpaper of public life: hideous, and it really needs to go, but it’s quite simply there.
So some anonymous whistleblower sends a vast pile of data to a newspaper, and the collective response is: “My goodness me, all those politicians who’ve been enriching themselves at our expense — they’ve been enriching themselves at our expense!” This, of course, is swiftly followed by, “Throw them out!”
At least in some countries. Yesterday, one of my students wanted to know why the British were making such a huge fuss about it. Germans aren’t too bothered, she said. Probably; but then the German economy is doing reasonably well, while in Britain, a group of rich people in government have been telling the populace for years now that they need to tighten their belts.
So, yes: “David Cameron must go!” chant the protestors, because he has personally benefitted from his father’s tax-avoiding activities, although he may not actually have broken the law. But then, this is a moral, rather than a legal, issue. But then again, I don’t think these are people who originally supported David Cameron, and have now had an unwelcome epiphany: they’re people who were violently opposed to the Conservative government anyhow, and these latest not-particularly-surprising revelations are a good reason to voice their opinions.
Also, I wonder if they have thought through their demands. According to some of the placards they were waving, they seem to think that Cameron resigning is the same as the Conservative Party being forced out of Parliament. If so, they’re in for a shock: it would just mean a new, and probably considerably less popular, Conservative Prime Minister. If we’re very unlucky, it could be George Osborne, a man who has managed to hold on to his job of Chancellor of the Exchequer — Britain’s finance minister, basically — despite the fact that just about everything he does or says is deeply unpopular not only with the general population, but with the whole of his own party.
Another interesting thing is that people seem to think this is just a Conservative Party Thing. Well, so far, apart from David Cameron (indirectly), a grand total of three former British MPs are caught up in this particular scandal, and they are all Conservatives. But of course, as massive as this leak is, it only involves one company operating in one tax haven, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the tip of the iceberg. And just for the record, it’s not as if people who describe themselves as socialists are immune from this kind of behaviour.
I am, though, quite convinced that the current leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has the moral high ground on this one. Jeremy Corbyn, for those who don’t know, is a politician way out on the left wing of the Labour Party who, after 30 years on the backbenches quietly rebelling, was unexpectedly and dramatically voted leader of the party, and therefore also Leader of the Opposition.
Unfortunately, Corbyn hasn’t been doing his job very well. His job, incidentally, is to hold the government to account and pick holes in government policy. He’s quite useless at that: for all that his supporters keep telling me that he “destroys the government” every week at Prime Minister’s Questions, a look through the Hansard, the official record of parliamentary business, reveals that he just politely asks question after question, and never really challenges the answers he gets.
Of course, this scandal has actually succeeded in making Cameron’s approval rating drop below that of Corbyn, so it turns out that the opposition didn’t really need to do much opposing. And really, absolutely nobody believes Jeremy Corbyn has fifty million hidden away in a trust fund in the Cayman Islands. I mean, just look at the man. Say what you like, his probity is not in question.
So, amid all the fashionable bash-the-rich grassroots politics that are going on at the moment, do I think Corbyn would make a better Prime Minister than Cameron?
I think that question’s moot. I don’t think either of them are good Prime Minister material. Corbyn, because as a former rebel he won’t be able to unite the party behind him, and also because his policies seem to have just woken up from a forty-year coma. And Cameron, not for the reasons it’s currently fashionable to bash him for — he’s rich, he once almost certainly didn’t put part of his anatomy anywhere near a dead pig’s snout but it’s too good a story to risk fact-checking, and his late father did some questionable financial jiggery-pokery to make the family richer than it had a right to be — but because he has so far been an appalling Prime Minister, and has far too much faith in his even more appalling Chancellor.
Fifteen years after I left the UK I lost my right to vote there, which is a great relief because it means that whatever happens from now on, it’s not my fault. It also means I don’t have to choose between the Disaster Party, the Dithering Party, the Non-Existent Party, the Screaming Xenophobe Party, and Russell bloody Brand.