I must confess – and to anyone who knows me this takes some doing – to being wholly wrong. This isn’t a rarity; I’d wager a good 50% of my decisions can be classified as lacklustre. But nonetheless, I was pretty certain I’d be proved right when I cynically brushed aside the Panama Papers as “nothing we don’t already know” and stated that they’re just another loaded gun which no one with power has the appetite to shoot.
Fast forward 24 hours and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, has resigned in a flurry of controversy whilst our own PM protests his innocence on the morning paper’s front pages.
Simon Kelner, in his excellent column in today’s i, argues that we in Britain should be protesting on streets like the indignant Icelanders, and raises a vital question: is paying tax a moral duty or a legal commitment?
He also picks up on the “low-level anger” which many people – myself included – felt upon hearing these revelations. This resignation, which borders on apathy, towards the “apparatus of the establishment” is exactly why the elite continue – time, and time, and time again – to treat paying tax like taking out rubbish; if enough people ask they’ll do it, but only with a snide huff and puff.
There’s only so many times one can chastise the hypocritical government for simultaneously denouncing and facilitating tax evasion before losing hope that anything will change, and the 1% lust over this eventual abandonment of faith; they feed off passivity and indifference.
Simply because everyone knows it’s happening does not make it in any way, shape or form acceptable, and these papers – concrete proof of wrongdoing on an unprecedented scale – must trigger global financial reform.
I can hear your sardonic refute forming: it’s all well and good demanding reform and change, but if those that legislate are complicit in these very loopholes then how on earth will anything change?
Enter Iceland. Perhaps ‘firebrand’ and ‘revolutionary’ are not the words that spring to mind when describing the sparsely-populated island, but its public’s reaction to the Panama revelations has been exemplary. Here Labour demands an inquiry that will no doubt be whitewashed and people sit hashtagging inequality, whilst in Iceland the streets filled with furious protesters demanding accountability- and, come the afternoon, Gunnlaugsson was gone.
Sometimes change takes time. And it is never, ever easy. But if we let this gun be prised from our hands and gently unloaded by smiling multibillionaires sunning themselves in Bahamas then an opportunity – perhaps the greatest in a generation – for large scale economic reform will sink into the abyss.
Jeremy Corbyn’s call to bring tax havens into accord with UK taxation laws is the first step. Full transparency is the next. The time for empty words and failed promises is over: Panama has given us the ammo, and it’s our responsibility to shoot.