One things is certain in these uncertain political times: income inequality between the rich and poor is on the rise. It seems like a sick joke, but the world’s eight richest individuals now have the same combined wealth as the lower earning 50% of humanity residing in our vast universe!
Red Nose Day, which takes place this Friday in Britain, thus lends itself as the perfect chance to bloody the noses of the out-of-touch billionaires who seem all too willing to sacrifice our lives to engorge their profit margins. I can think of eight noses to get started with, but those in America will have to wait to May 25 for their own opportunity to “come together to end child poverty, one nose at a time.”
However, the celebrity extravaganza of comedy and fundraising that marks Red Nose Day need not be ditched quite yet. There is much poverty and gloom in the world, and I for one would not want to deprive millions of people of a rare opportunity to laugh together while demonstrating the deep depths of their generosity.
£100 million was raised for charitable causes during the last Red Nose Day — a not insignificant amount of money given the austerity that is currently being rammed hard down our throats. But let us dream for a moment, as wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to go through this regular ritual of scraping together our pennies to help others whose need is greater than our own?
By means of an alternative, in Britain at least, we could do well if we committed to enforcing current tax laws so we could gather together the £120 billion worth of tax that the super-rich fail to pay to the British government each and every year. This huge sum of money would certainly go a long way towards helping relieve poverty in Britain, which would of course could spill over to helping people in poorer countries too.
We could still have our Red Nose Day, but we might decide that any money raised could be gifted to those members of the super-rich who refuse to pay their way in Britain, that is, to help them relocate their sponging business empires to some other distant tax haven.
One overly-privileged recipient of Britain’s charitable impulses who might be in need of such charitable incentives to move on might be current Comic Relief trustee Robert Webb, who only recently retired as the General Counsel for monumental tax avoider Rolls Royce. A good example of Rolls Royce’s less than positive contribution to society came in January, just over a year after the end of Webb’s four-year term of service at the company, when Rolls Royce executives coughed up a whopping £671 million fine to avoid being prosecuted by anti-corruption investigators in the UK, US and Brazil.
Comic Relief darling Mr Webb is also presently the chairman of the spookily named Darktrace Ltd — an enterprise which apparently brings together “world-leading intelligence experts from MI5 and GCHQ, to bring transformative technology to the challenge of cyber security.” High-level spooks working as advisors for Darktrace include Lord Evans of Weardale, who served as the Director General of MI5 from 2007 to 2013 — a well-connected man who is presently being well-remunerated as a non-executive Director of HSBC Holdings (a position he has held since 2013).
Mr Webb’s friends are clearly in need our attention. Some of the expected £100 million raised by the British public during Red Nose Day could be diverted to send the profit-drunk bosses of HSBC packing as well. If you needed reminding, in 2015 HSBC were at the centre of the tax avoidance scandal that demonstrated that “HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets, doling out bundles of untraceable cash and advising clients on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities”.
Deemed as too powerful to fail, HSBC had of course been dealt a maddening amount of charity already, when in 2013 they had their corporate wrists gently slapped, not shackled — they were fined $1.9 billion or about five weeks’ profit — for their central role in the largest drug-and-terrorism money-laundering case in history. At the time, Rolling Stone magazine reported:
“For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that “they make the guys on Wall Street look good.” The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.”
For these dark services to humankind HSBC were dealt yet another charitable hand, as nobody from the bank went to jail or paid a dollar in individual fines.
So this year let us once again extend our collective donations to the folks at HSBC, Rolls Royce and all corporate tax avoiders residing in Britain, but this time we should attach a few strings to our philanthropic good will.
Then, and only then, would we be in a more comfortable position to laugh our way through the light Comic Relief provided by this years Red Nose Day safe in the understanding that all our monies will pay for the forced repatriation of super-rich scroungers beyond our generous shores. Or alternatively, we could use the money we raise this year to fund a political party of the working-class that is committed to fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that everyone pays their way in Britain; we might even raise corporation tax as well.
Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy – February 2017.