What’s Cameron Doing About Corruption? – Yvonne Ridley

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The anti-corruption summit has been overshadowed by comments that British Prime Minister David Cameron made about Nigeria. Image credit: PA
The anti-corruption summit has been overshadowed by comments that British Prime Minister David Cameron made about Nigeria. Image credit: PA

Columnist Yvonne Ridley questions how much Prime Minister David Cameron really cares about corruption

YVONNE RIDLEY

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE QUEEN is very good at hiding her displeasure, and so is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, but this time the stench of hypocrisy was just too much to bear as the non-too-fragrant British prime minister wafted in to a Buckingham Palace party and started talking about corruption.

Ramping up the smug meter, David Cameron described Nigeria and Afghanistan as being “fantastically corrupt” just hours before their leaders visit the UK. It was one of those unguarded moments in which Cameron failed to notice TV cameras and microphones – as well as ignoring the fact the Queen is the head of the Commonwealth that includes Nigeria.

While she turned her head away, Welby, who has worked in Nigeria, intervened and said of the Nigerian leader: “But this particular president is actually not corrupt.”

The fact that some of these international sleaze merchants have set up home in London, flaunting their stolen wealth, also does not seem to bother Cameron.

Since Cameron seems to be incapable of saying sorry – he has yet to apologise for misleading the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions when he wrongly accused a London cleric of being a supporter of Isis – some of his fawning apparatchiks started briefing that the PM’s words were outspoken, possibly unguarded but not untrue.

Setting aside the rights and wrongs of yet another Cameron gaffe, one has to ask, who is he to talk about corruption when he appears to turn a blind eye to tax havens working specifically for the corrupt and filthy rich classes? Some who also appear to move in the same social circles as the PM and his multimillionaire Cabinet. The fact that some of these international sleaze merchants have set up home in London, flaunting their stolen wealth, also does not seem to bother Cameron.

It is not as though he is blind to the corruption, either; just a few days ago over 300 leading economists from 30 countries, including Scotland, wrote a letter stating there is no economic justification for allowing tax havens to operate in the world today.

Just a few days ago over 300 leading economists from 30 countries, including Scotland, wrote a letter stating there is no economic justification for allowing tax havens to operate in the world today.

The letter was deliberately timed to coincide with the start of the UK Government’s anti-corruption summit in London this Thursday. This was the topic a rather jaunty Cameron was talking about to the Queen about when he made his “fantastically corrupt” comment about Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Instead of gossiping about the affairs of these two countries, the PM would be better advised to sit down and read the letter and take some positive action to clamp down on the fantastically corrupt who openly flaunt their illegally acquired riches.

Apart from representatives and leaders of more than 40 nations, Thursday’s gatherig will include leading members of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It is encouraging to know that Scotland was well represented in terms of signatories to the letter. At least five leading Scots signed including Mariana Mazzucato, an economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon; the Scottish Government’s former chief economist Professor Andrew Goudie; Mike Danson, professor of enterprise policy at Heriot-Watt University; Dr Zofia Lapniewska of Glasgow Caledonian University; and the Edinburgh-born Angus Deaton, last year’s Nobel Prize-winner for economics.

Can we at least be hopeful that what Cameron neglects to do, the Scottish Government will take up the cudgels on behalf of taxpayers? Some would say the sooner Scotland wins full fiscal autonomy, the better.

Can we at least be hopeful that what Cameron neglects to do, the Scottish Government will take up the cudgels on behalf of taxpayers? Some would say the sooner Scotland wins full fiscal autonomy, the better.

The letter warns Cameron and other global leaders that tax havens undermine countries’ ability to collect taxes, leaving the poorest countries the worst off. Calling on the UK to take the lead in ending tax havens, perhaps Cameron would have been better advised to raise this issue instead of ridiculing struggling countries like Nigeria and war torn Afghanistan.

The arrival of the Panama Papers scandal just confirmed what many suspected in the first place – that tax corruption and tax evasion is widespread and rife.

The brains behind the letter is the British charity Oxfam which has long been a critic of the Cameron government. The charity is also calling on the government to intervene and plans to stunt up an “offshore tax haven” in the middle of Trafalgar Square during the conference.

Oxfam GB chief executive Mark Goldring said: “If David Cameron wants the anti-corruption summit to really make a difference, he needs to stand up to Britain’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies instead of allowing them to carry on operating in secrecy.”

What a fantastically courageous idea!

www.commonspace.scot

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