Tax havens and the super-rich: why the government has one eye closed

London, tax haven capital.

New research from the Tax Justice Network – an organisation devoted to making the rich pony up their due - says that a minimum of $21trn is held offshore. This stash should worry us all.

This is not just because it is money which could generate $190bn in taxes to be spent by governments on, say, paying down debt, building schools or hiring nurses. What is as important is the effect this hidden money has on social inequality.

Alongside the report with the $21trn figure (which may in fact be $32trn, or somewhere in between, or indeed less), the TJN published "Inequality: You don't know the half of it", which hews to the argument of The Spirit Level and similar texts, that inequality increases social problems, and shows how it is now a much greater problem in the light of its new research:

"Power follows money, and extreme concentrations of wealth at the top of the income scale lead inevitably to disproportionate power and influence for the wealthiest members of society, so some of the most malign political effects of inequality stem from changes as the very top of the income and wealth distribution."

The British government is certainly making some efforts to tackle tax avoidance - all those Carr-ish schemes are being stopped - but it's with one eye closed. As Nicholas Shaxson pointed out in his book Treasure Islands: Tax havens and the men who stole the world, the fons et origo of tax havens is… London. With New York, "the jurisdictions act as capitals of secret empires, exploiting their hand-in-glove relationships with former colonies to tap funds that would otherwise be deemed too dirty to handle."

If the government can't make the connection between the money that flows into the City from tax havens and the riots on London's streets, it should perhaps pay attention to the Tax Justice Network, crusaders even without capes.

Josh Spero is the editor of Spear's.

London. Photograph, Getty Images

Josh Spero is the editor of Spear's magazine.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.