Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Money moving among the wealthy: a neat arrangement

In Britain, we’re being regaled by the tale of an Osborne and an Oborne.

The Osborne is George, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the present British government. In the midst of the current scandal about tax avoidance schemes being peddled by the Swiss subsidiary of HSBC, one of the major pillars of our fine banking industry, it has emerged that back in 2003 he was offering public advice to invest in some such tool.

“I probably shouldn’t be advocating this on television,” he added. I’d say, George, I’d say.

Peter Oborne: left the Telegraph and rather slammed the door
The Oborne is Peter, a journalist who has just resigned from the leading organ of respectable Conservatism, the Daily Telegraph. He felt the paper was a quality publication, dedicated to informing its readership of what was happening in the world, and doing so honestly, albeit from a specific point of view.

To live that way, a paper must maintain a strict separation between its editorial and its advertising departments. Unfortunately, Oborne feels that such a separation has gone at the Telegraph, one of whose major advertisers is, precisely, HSBC. As a result, he feels, the paper has given the scandal minimal coverage.

“You needed a microscope,” he writes, “to find the Telegraph coverage: nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday.”

On the other hand, HSBC has maintained its advertising with the paper.

This, Oborne feels, is nothing short of deception: “The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers. It has been placing what it perceives to be the interests of a major international bank above its duty to bring the news to Telegraph readers.”

Certainly, it’s fascinating to have the workings of the HSBC-Telegraph nexus exposed in this way. Because, actually, it’s three-way nexus.

George Osborne:
much to be gleeful about, as the cash registers keep clinging
On the one hand, we have a government that seems at best relaxed about the kind of activity HSBC undertook. Challenged on the subject four times by Ed Miliband, leader of the Opposition, David Cameron evaded the issue four times in Parliament. That contrasts with his much more severe attitude towards other kinds of financial fraud, such as illegal benefits claims, or even legal claims he feels are without moral justification: he’s just announced new plans to force young people to work for benefits if they don’t find work, in a market where there simply aren’t enough jobs to go round.

Next we have the people who were benefitting from the kind of clever financial products HSBC was offering. Rather a large number of them seem to have been donors to the Conservative Party. They figure, in other words, among David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s paymasters.

Finally, there’s the Telegraph, speaking for those same Conservative interests represented by Cameron and Osborne and by the donors who took advantage of HSBC’s sleight of hand. The Telegraph that breaks its own editorial principles so as not to offend HSBC. And by doing so benefits financially from it.

It is also one of the major figures in the overwhelmingly right-wing media environment in Britain, that contributes to keeping the Conservatives in government.


Awoogamuffin said...

If we could figure out a fair and simple way to stop tax avoidance, presumably there would be no need for austerity, right? It's these same guys who tell us we need to tighten our belts as a nation as they transfer their company's holdings to Bermuda.

As for journalistic integrity, I suppose this is what we get for refusing to pay for our news anymore

David Beeson said...

I suspect stopping tax avoidance wouldn't solve the problem (the sums though large aren't large enough - perhaps £25bn in Britain). But it would help and it would create an atmosphere of more equity - more of a "we're all in it together" spirit.

Journalistic integrity has been a problem a lot longer than that. Remember the doggerel?

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
Thank God, the British journalist

But when you see what the man will do
Unbribed, there's no occasion too.