Episode 12 – This week we chat Panama Papers and Tiernan interviews Law Lecturer Paul Bernal all about the Investigatory Powers Bill while finding it hard to say the word investigatory.
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INTRO LINE –
Monday It was a private matter then on Tuesday, said he owned no shares, and on Thursday he said he did though, then Saturday it’s not a great week, then he submitted tax returns on Sunday.
Hello and welcome to another Partly Political Broadcast podcast. I’m Tiernan Douieb and the only time I’ve ever had any money offshore is when I accidentally dropped £2.36 off the side of a P&O ferry to Calais in 1988.
On this week’s show Paul Bernal talks to me all about why the investigatory powers bill is both scary and all a bit rubbish really and of course, I’ll be looking into all the Panamonium that’s been happening in the world of tax avoidance. Panamanium? Geddit? Sorry.
Before we kick all that off though, thanks again for listening to this show. We’ve had a big boost in listeners over the last two weeks which is great, including, I understand, one listener in New Zealand. I’m guessing they listen in to confirm their suspicions that it really is a good idea living that far away from the UK after all. I will try to stick more world politics in this soon so any of you non-UK listeners can realise that you’re not safe anywhere and we should probably all go live on the moon. I’ve also managed to gain a ParPolBro helper. Or a ParPolBro I guess you could call him? Matthew Hoss will be helping me source guests and other non-exciting admin in the future which is very kind of him indeed. Please do keep spreading the word about the show and please please give us a review on iTunes. It doesn’t even have to be a written one. You can just click the little stars on the page. It really helps promote the show and it makes up for all the gold stars I didn’t get at school for my pasta collages that I still have rejection issues about. That’s not true. I got loads of stars for those.
What I’ve been enjoying about doing these podcasts is that I’ve been learning a lot of things that I previously had no idea about, and not just via the interviews I’ve been doing. To get ideas for the show I’ve been going to various panels and talks and in the last few weeks I’ve been attending discussions held at Foyles bookshop in London, all on the London Mayoral elections, and put together by Compass Office who seem like an excellent group. They’ve all been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed sitting with my girlfriend trying to guess which members of the audience are genuinely interested and who’s just turned up thinking it’s a mini Question Time in order to shout their opinion that no one has paid to hear. So far, we’ve got them all right. It’s mostly down to badges and hat combinations. Anyway, the last one was with George Monbiot, Faiza Shaheen who is the director of Class Think Tank and Chido Dunn from Global Witness who are clamping down on corruption and tax havens and the like. I won’t repeat the whole event but the most interesting bit was on neoliberalism being broken, but there not being a system to replace it with yet, so we’re stuck. I think George Monbiot succinctly described neoliberalism as believing ‘all areas of life are a competition and anything that gets in the way or opposes that ideal is a threat to freedom.’ So your homework for next week’s show, what can we replace neoliberalism with eh guys? And can ice cream be its currency? No, I’m only joking. What it did do though is help me understand the economic philosophy and if I can, I’m going to try and get more interviewees on this podcast who can maybe talk about how we go about progressing beyond it. You know clever things like that. Basically, I reckon by episode 30 I should have fixed everything. You can thank me later.
Right, that’s enough of that. We’ve got a long interview today that I didn’t feel I could cut too much out of without losing interesting stuff, so there’s not as much stuff from me this week. So without further, or in fact any ado. Less ado right now! Let’s ban ado:
INTERVIEW WITH PAUL BERNAL – Privacy of Panama Papers
After mentioning the Investigative Powers Bill in episode 9 and saying that it’d probably get passed in parliament, it did. It’s almost like I’m a podcast Nostradamus. Podstradamus. Or it’s more like our political system is highly predictable. Or or or or, maybe they’re just listening in to everything I do? It’s probably still the middle one. Anyway with various companies saying the cost of the IP Bill will now be a lot higher than predicted, and privacy playing a big part in the Panana Papers scandal, I thought I’d get someone professional to explain the problems with the Bill and why in real life Tom Hiddlestone’s Night Manager would actually just spend a lot of time being bewildered as to how many people actually bother to use LinkedIn.
So our expert this week is University Of East Anglia Law Lecturer Paul Bernal who specialises in Human Rights and Privacy. Paul has written a book called ‘Internet Privacy Rights’ and writes a blog all about all sorts of legal issues, online and otherwise. So I thought he was the perfect person to speak to. Although he did pass on his Skype username all too easily for my liking….
I should say I did this interview a week ago so we didn’t talk about the Panama Papers or the recent moves against the bill by the Law Society of Scotland. There is also annoyingly some echo and an occasional dodgy line. And at one point a noise that sounds like a comedy kazoo. Dodgy internet line? While we’re talking about MI5 spying at people online? Hmmmmmm. Coincidence? Probably. Here’s Paul….
Back to Paul in a minute but first:
Up until a week ago, all I knew about Panama was their tasty choice in hats. But thanks to a data leak of 11.5m files we now all know it wasn’t just their heads they were keeping shady over there. Instead it’s home to the world’s 4th biggest offshore firm Mossack Fonseca who as well as having a name that sounds like they’ll be a featured bounty hunter in the next Star Wars film, have also advised a large amount of rich people how to exploit secretive tax regimes. 143 politicians are named in the files including some of Putin’s collegues which is odd as we thought they would all be so trustworthy and the now former Icelandic Prime Minister. Sigmunder David Gunnlaughsson resigned last week after the Panama Papers revealed his shares in offshore companies and creditors to failed Icelandic banks that he hadn’t revealed when he entered Parliament. Thing is, Gunnlaughsoon was a member of the same party who were in government in 2008 and caused the crash, and then after getting rid of them in a rush election in 2009, they voted them back in in 2013. I believe that Iceland’s version of the saying is ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice it’s because we have a voting electorate that is far too forgiving’.
Not that we’re much better in the UK, as the data leak’s revelations about the UK Prime Minister’s family have all but distracted the public from the real problem that is offshore tax havens. Evidence shows that David Cameron’s father owned an offshore investment fund that avoided ever paying tax in the UK by getting people in the Bahamas to sign paperwork. I’m not sure how they did that. ‘Excuse me do you mind popping your name there so a very rich man who’s ancestors probably enslaved yours can avoid helping people in their own country too?’ One thing I’d take away from this story is it seems Bahamians will sign anything and so we should probably send a ton of chuggers there immediately.
This has prompted Cameron to do more backtracking over the last week than MC Kat does in that song with Paula Abdul. First the whole matter was private, like how the Investigative Powers Bill he’s backing means nothing you do ever will be. Then he said he hadn’t benefitted from his father’s offshore fund. Then he said he did but wouldn’t in the future before admitting that it had not been a good week. Which is probably the first time ever Cameron has said what the public have been thinking every week since May 2010. Since then there’s been revelations that the Prime Minister avoided paying inheritance tax. And then he released his tax returns summary which aside from being as boring a read as Adrian Chiles’s list of favourite car parks, doesn’t show anything untoward. Though it also doesn’t have any evidence that there aren’t any further offshore discretionary trusts that he or his family might gain from in the future because it would only have that on there if he told them about it.
And the problem with all of this is that there isn’t one. Well not legally anyway. All of it is tax avoidance which is entirely fine in our current tax system, and in fact Cameron’s tax returns show that he actually paid more tax from 2011-2014 than he was legally obliged to. All that has prompted is tons of MPs to either agree to release their tax returns or like Nigel Farage, refuse to. I’m guessing he just hopes we think he treats getting money from offshore accounts as money coming over here avoiding helping our country. Though somehow I’m sure that’s not what we’d find on there. George Osborne revealed his tax returns showing that somehow he’d only got £3 in interest on an income of nearly £200k which judging by how he’s managed the countries finances so far, sounds about right. Otherwise as it was a summary we couldn’t tell how much George had earned from lizard royalty fees or what was stolen from children’s dreams. Boris Johnson earns as much money as you’d expect a man who ruins that many things would in order to survive. And Jeremy Corbyn’s tax returns were presented in full photocopied paper form with illegible writing and it turned out he’d been fined £100 for getting them in late. Which is how he seems to do everything really. Only realising something is important and should be dealt with several days too late.
So while there is nothing legally wrong with this there is a big moral issue, in that tax avoidance has become completely normal in wealthy circles. In his speech in the Commons on Monday, David Cameron referred to a leading tax lawyer saying what Cameron’s father did was a ‘perfectly normal type of collective investment fund.’ Dave then went on to say trade unions, the BBC and Islington council all have offshore investment funds too. Which is an odd way of defending it. Hey! Other people do bad stuff too! It’s like the John Lennon Imagine argument about being a dreamer, but for arseholes. But he’s sort of right. He’s also called Jimmy Carr ‘morally wrong’ for avoiding tax and not for any of his jokes which seemed misguided. George Osborne too said tax avoidance was morally repugnant. But as we know Osborne’s father’s company has also avoided tax albeit through legal methods, and all you need to do is search online for tax avoidance – probably not Google though eh? – and you’ll see politicians across the board have done it, from Thatcher’s £12m mansion owned by a British Virgin Islands company, to Ken Livingstone funnelling £238k through tax avoidance schemes in 2011. And yes, there is something really unsettling about hearing ‘Ken Livingstone’ and ‘funnelling’ in the same sentence. And none of this is even touching on corporate tax avoidance.
Cameron has said the government are doing more to tackle tax avoidance than ever before, which if you listen to my interview with Joylon Maughn in episode 8, you’ll hear is true. But also they’ve cut taxes for the very rich meaning they have less tax to avoid and they’ve cut taxes for the lowest paid workers too meaning even less tax money is going into the system. Back in 2013 the EU had a drive to force banks to reveal beneficiaries of offshore trust funds in the hope that it’d tackle secretive tax evasion. David Cameron personally intervened to make sure this didn’t happen, sending a letter that said ‘It is clearly important we recognise the differences between companies and trusts.’ I presume it’s that you can’t trust companies and he has company with trusts. The current HMRC chief was a partner at the law firm that acted for Cameron’s father’s offshore fund. It’s all so normal for the political elite to avoid paying tax you wonder if they spent their childhood repeatedly biting hands that fed them.
I joked in episode 8 that ‘no one likes paying taxes’ which I was rightly pulled up on by some of you on Twitter. I do like that I pay my taxes in full. I hate that I have to read hundreds of receipts and type them all into an Excel file until my brain hurts. But I’m proud of paying towards services I need. If we have a government that doesn’t uphold the idea that the people pay into a working system for everyone, then that will just lead to more privitisation as services have less funding, and more inequality as only people with money can afford to use them. I joked in my last stand-up show that the way to fix tax avoidance is to make sure people who do it, can’t use anything paid for by tax. In fact, here’s the bit:
BIT FROM MY SHOW
But they don’t need to use those things anyway as they take their kids to private schools and go to private hospitals and live on their private land. As long as tax avoidance is a moral, not a legal issue, nothing can be done about it. Even if that moral issue is the sort of issue that means lots and lots of people are suffering from austerity while those with a lot of money avoid paying tax towards the systems that need saving. And when your Prime Minister insists on tackling it with one hand but is using the other hand to write letters to the EU to make sure it can keep happening, then it’s probably not going to end anytime soon.
I listened to a Radio 4 program recently about Norway where they have full tax transparency. At one point the reporter went to a business conference and asked people if they minded having this. ‘No of course not’ said one of them ‘Tax is the most important contribution you can make to the country.’ The next person agreed. As did the next. Maybe our Prime Minister should be the one that sets the example of contributing properly to the country. Though judging by his family history he’d probably just get someone from the Bahamas to do it.
And now back to Paul:
INTERVIEW WITH PAUL PT 2
Stop basically stop watching James Bond and update your phone. Solid advice I think. Huge thanks to Paul. You can find him on Twitter @paulbernaluk and his excellent and very in depth blog is at paulbernal.wordpress.com.
As I say every week, if you have someone you’d like me to interview or a subject or issue you’d like me to find someone to interview about, please let me know.
It’s the Question of the week. This week, rather oddly and out of nowhere, Danny DeVito endorsed Jeremy Corbyn. Saying he was a big fan of him, and thought he’d make a much better leader than Cameron. Quite how someone of DeVito’s size can be a big fan of anything is beyond me, but anyway I asked our Twitter and Facebook followers to send me any other celebrity endorsements of politicians that they’d like to see.
Ethan Lawrence – Tom Cruise for Jacob Rees-Mogg. You would have to be an insane hyper religious zealot to truly understand what he’s getting at.
January Jones for Theresa May. I suppose she also spends a lot of time dealing with overpaid PR men.
@flufflogic pretty sure Chubby Brown would support Farage…
@wolfiesmiffed Hmm, how about Mel Gibson endorsing Nigel Farage?
@hullodave Well, Richard Branson presumably already endorses Eric Pickles.
@garryhemming suggested Julian Clary for Donald Trump – Judging by his views on equal marriage I’m sure Trump wouldn’t feel right about that.
@chrisbrosnahan I’M BARRY SCOTT AND I VOTE UKIP. BANG AND THE EU IS GONE. – Well someone needs to clean up that party.
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook @parpolbro for the weekly questions.
PARTLY BIG SOCIETY – Letter to Samantha Cameron
Thanks to everyone who took part in last week’s Partly Big Society. I realised the major flaw in the plan was that Dan Thomas doesn’t actually tweet very much. Still, I’ve told him to SHHH a few times and so have some of you lot which is great. Keep it up.
This week’s Partly Big Society comes from Nigel Herwin who sent me the first ever email about this podcast which is exciting! Nigel said:
Here’s a suggestion for a Partly Big Society caper:
Why don’t we send used or spare fashion magazines and catalogues to Samantha Cameron at 10 Downing Street? This will hopefully give her ideas of what to wear rather than spending £53,000 of taxpayers’ money on someone helping her pick out her dresses.
I think that’s a great idea. You can send post to 10 Downing Street though it’ll obviously get vetted for any dangerous things. However if we’re just sending Sam Cam clothes magazines you’d hope they get to her. Again, no need for any swears or nasty stuff, just maybe a note about how crazy it is that anyone needs a £53k a year fashion adviser when onesis exist so she should probably help fight austerity with that money instead and some choice circled or cut out pics of clothing suggestions. The address to send them to is:
10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA
Again, please don’t spend any money on this and send me pics of your notes and letters to the Twitter or Facebook account, or PartlyPoliticalBroadcast@gmail.com and I’ll post them up.
And that’s the end of this week’s show. Over the next few weeks, depending on stories, I’ll try to focus in more on the upcoming local and London Mayor elections as well as the ever looming EU referendum. If you enjoy the show please do tell everyone ever ever, or as we’ve heard from our chat with Paul Bernal, maybe just click on the website enough and I may gain the MI5 as listeners! But seriously word of mouth is very useful for podcasts indeed, as are reviews on iTunes if you fancy giving us one. And then a review! Whoop! And follow us on Twitter @parpolbro, Facebook at facebook.com/parpolbro and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, feelings, or perhaps smells about the show. Actually, maybe not smells.
This week’s show was brought to you by nothing. There’s no numbers there. I’m not benefitting from any numbers. Ok, 30,000. But it was all taxed properly. Ok another 200,000 as well but I’ve done nothing wrong.