The ExCel Centre in London Docklands is a forbidding place — no, let’s rewind, London Docklands is a forbidding place, more so now it is filled with soulless office blocks than when it was a maze of tumbledown warehouses and Dickensian streets filled with slum-dwellers. At least the area had character then, the new docklands only has that air of desperation common to all manufactured communities. The ExCel, where the great and good were gathered last week to put the world to rights and set us on the road to recovery, fits comfortably into such an area.
Obviously I was not there in person; bloggers do not yet receive invitations to such events and bloggers who make it their mission to ridicule our leaders probably never will. For those of us masochistic enough to watch the proceedings on TV, however, the whole show was broadcast and a camera even took us from the security barrier and through the labyrinthine and often surreal clearance process.
A huge temporary shed had been built onto the already ugly building, and on getting through the first security check, the reporter and cameraman were herded inside. It turned out, though, this was only a holding pen for people to await the real security checks. Vetting the journalists was a long, convoluted and tedious process, providing a taste of what was to come. In fact, so depressing did the prospect seem, several old-hands of the media circus extraordinarily renditioned themselves away to The City where they could watch the event unfold on TV while comforting themselves with a pint of port wine and a slice of pork and game pie in The Black Bull, a pub that has provided such refuge and refreshment for over four hundred years. The G20 conference lacks a sense of history. The Black bull does not. No wonder The City (so called because it is the part of London that was enclosed by the ancient wall) used to be known as The Gout Capital Of The World. Still, for the health conscious, a hot beef and horseradish sauce sandwich garnished with a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato was available in Balls Bros. Wine Bar.
Really, the whole venue was wrong, as not only is Docklands a nightmare to get to and from by motorcade and very difficult to secure, it is also next to London City Airport so the noise of jet engines did nothing to help either speakers or broadcasters. It is a symptom of the governing political party New Labour’s meritocracy–or should I say mediocracy–that in a city so crammed with ideal venues for the making of history, they could choose one so drab, ugly and logistically unsuitable.
We British used to excel at staging big occasions that require pomp and circumstance. Twelve years of New Labour–soon to be rebranded “NuLab” because change equals success–have turned us, however, into a bunch of ham-fisted amateurs at organising everything. The old phrase “couldn’t organise a piss up (drinking party) in a brewery” comes to mind.
The Guildhall, home of the City Of London Corporation, is a wonderful eighteenth century gothic building crammed with priceless antiques, unique wall-hangings and paintings by Old Masters, and would have provided a far better place perhaps to remind G20 attendees of the difference between themselves–devotees of procedure and academic theory–and the adventurers and buccaneers who laid the foundations of the modern world. If security for The Guildhall was the problem–though it could not be as much of a problem as the actual venue which is surrounded by immigrant areas–there are other venues in Whitehall, the government district, which are almost as impressive in stature and have the added benefit of being in an area already set up to protect the Royal Palaces and the Houses of Parliament.
Nevertheless, the ExCel is modern, and “modern” is the favourite word of NuLab politicians, though since last November “change” is running a close second. NuLab politicians now are always telling us they are committed to deliver the change Britain needs if it is to move forward to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Simply doing things well does not even make the frame. Buzzword-obsessed politicians, it seems, have forgotten that “change” and “improvement” are very different concepts.
Back at the conference centre, it was our camera crew’s turn to be processed through security and allowed into the event hall. The process was long-winded and involved a thorough vetting of credentials likely superior to the vetting process used by the American president to fill his cabinet positions.
Once vetted, the TV crew led us to the hall itself. Inside, the blinds were drawn but the furniture was real. Not so the conference itself, however, which took on a surreal quality as speaker after speaker, all of whom mistrust and hate each other, lined up to sing the praises of the other leaders. One point was repeated over and over again: the financial meltdown was surely not the fault of politicians. Oh no, they all said, world leaders and representatives of lesser nations had behaved with impeccable probity throughout the crisis. Oh no, they all said, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and the subsequent collapse of global financial markets had all been the fault of the greedy bankers. When organiing a witch hunt, after all, the first task is to find a witch.
The world leaders, having agreed they are the only people who can save the economic system, could not agree how it should be done. Gordon Brown and Barack Obama wanted a stimulus. Instead, they got a homunculus in the shape of Nicolas Sarkozy, who maintained that the French did not need any stimulating and directed the Special Relationship boys to Soho, the centre for London’s sleaze business where all sorts of stimuli are available in the sex shops, lap-dancing clubs and certain establishments that cater to gentlemen who “bat for the other team.”
(When I submitted my first article for Americas Right, Jeff laid on me the condition that being British I include at least one nautical metaphor in each article. I accepted that, but only on condition I can have a cricket metaphor, too.)
[What can I say? I was inspired by MEP Daniel Hannan's "sailing into the squalls" excoriation of the British PM, and figured that all Brits were wordsmiths. -- Jeff]
Sarko’s resistance to Obama’s attempts to stimulate him were buttressed by Germany’s Angela Merkel, possibly the most unstimulating human being alive, Mrs Obama excepted. Poor Michelle Obama, by the way, seems to be having a problem living up to her newly acquired sex-bomb and fashion icon label. As Shakespeare might have said: Some are born with sex appeal, some develop sex appeal and some have sex appeal thrust upon them. It’s hard to be sexy, though, when one’s best features are arms. Did anybody ever know a guy who, after passing an attractive woman in he street, would look over his shoulder and say, “Phwoar, nice arms?”
Anyway, after the politicians had praised each other and blamed the greedy, amoral bankers, they moved on to demonising the tax havens. A few minutes of this and completely harmless and often beautiful places like Jersey, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Grand Cayman started to sound like Belial, Chemosh, Bel Shammoreth or Azazel*. Let any of these places become your familiar spirit–er, I mean tax haven of choice–and you are going to be in much trouble from the kind of people who find evil in a cuckoo-clock. The vile tax havens are depriving honest governments of much needed revenue that ought to be spent on socially desirable projects like jollies for politicians and Mag-Lev rail tracks to nowhere.
What other projects might need these trillions of dollars, pounds and euros? Well, if you listen to the G20 leaders you will learn that the military need bigger armies, academics need bigger academies, environmentalists need bigger environments, bureaucrats need bigger bureaus and tax eaters** need bigger pork barrels.
So, recovery is simple then — have the greedy bankers burned at the stake and take control of the tax havens. The problem with attacking tax havens, however, is they are in most cases sovereign territories. The big nations cannot tell them what to do. And of those that are not sovereign territories? Well, the biggest tax haven in the world, the one with the most super-rich friendly tax regime, the mother of all tax havens, the Cthulhu of fiscal criminality, is none other than London itself, a city which has the most lenient tax arrangement for non-domiciled business.
A slight conflict of interest there, maybe? Or, perhaps, an indication that nobody really has the first idea how to get out of the current mess? Instead of steering us safely away from the storm , the leaders have misread their compass and set us on a course toward a Charybdisian maelstrom which may drag us down into the abyssal depths of slump. [There's that nautical reference! -- Jeff]
One thing people shoud be clear about, in order to save them for falling for the hogwash politicians use to clean out the pork barrels, is that tax havens are not involved in tax evasion any more than the hot dog vendor in your hometown is involved in tax evasion when refraining from asking each customer, “Did you come by the money you paid for this weiner honestly and declare the income on your tax return?” Do we really want a society in which we are all required to spy on each other for the government?
Tax havens do not ask many questions. Does your bank question you about how you came by the money when you deposit cash? If they do, change your bank. Business, from the hot dog vendor to the international banker, has always depended on good faith. The business tax havens are really in is tax avoidance — which is legal. Tax evasion, however, is a crime and no government is keen to assist criminals from other countries.
The people who make use of tax havens merely exploit laws made by the same governments that are now denouncing tax havens. If those governments were more competent at framing their laws and not so greedy for tax revenue required to feed the insatiablebureaucratic appetite for money, tax avoidance would not be a problem.
Governments will never accept the possibility that they are perhaps approaching a problem from the wrong direction so, after pointing the finger of blame, the G20 delegates decided to have a Witch Hunt. They have their devils–the tax havens–and they have their witches–the bankers–and the next natural step will be trial. During the witch hunts of the Inquisition, it was trial by ordeal; the accused would be dunked in water for several minutes, buried under heavy stones, thrown on a fire or tossed from a church roof. If she survived, it proved her guilt because The Devil had obviously helped her; if she did not survive, she died without a stain on her character. I suspect the bankers and the people who govern tax havens will suffer a worse fate — trial by media.
Be wary, though, as the hysteria of witch hunts is extremely contagious. The sad thing is the bankers, though certainly not blameless, are not chiefly responsible for the crisis. Another article will reveal what has contributed the most to the meltdown. In the meantime, the only thing we can conclude from the G20 is that the world leaders are clueless and their hugely costly exercise in diversion was no more than a self-congratulatory festival of windbaggery.
*Daemonologie: Belial and Chemosh should be familiar to people who read The Bible and Azazel to Jewish readers. Bel Shammoreth is an archdemon in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld comedy novels and Cthulhu is from H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.
**Tax-eaters: A self-explanatory phrase coined by 18th century social reformer William Cobbett. I think it deserves to be brought back into popular use.
Ian Thorpe is a British satirical writer. Before retiring at a rather tender age following a serious illness, he was a consultant specializing in integrated digital networks. His projects involved him in utilities, banking and finance, oil and chemicals and many branches of commerce and government. He had some writing success in the 1970s and 1980s but had to put that aside because consultancy paid better. He has been contributing at America’s Right since March 2009.