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The British Empire is alive and killing

british empire mapWhen does an empire cease to be an empire? When member countries gain independence, or when their populations are no longer exploited?

According to the former definition, the British Empire concluded within a few years of the Second World War. And yet, the exploitation has continued.

For a decade after that defining conflict, the British gentility faced an unprecedented existential crisis. Britain lacked the muscle to retain its unsettled colonies and the Suez Crisis confirmed this downfall.

The main source of Britain’s wealth over the previous 350 years had all but vanished in a decade. No longer could the bourgeois overtly rape and pillage their undeveloped colonies.

As far as the public was concerned, this was the end of empire. In our rapidly globalising world economy, developing nations would supposedly be free to climb the industrial ladder until they were on an even keel with their former colonialists.

But the wealthy aristocrats of Great Britain had other ideas. They were in no mood to distribute their wealth and relinquish their hold on the levers of power. They had one more play to make, and boy, did they score big time. Soon hatched a plan to take the British Empire underground.

Instead of direct state control over dominions, indirect control was to be seized using the private corporations. All they needed was a way of hiding the wealth, keeping it out of the hands of the people who had been enfranchised through their new-found independence.

An elaborate web of offshore tax havens, so-called because they were most often established on small islands, became the secret tool to continued exploitation of the world’s poor by the world’s rich.

The Brits took advantage of their remaining provinces. The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Mauritius, Hong Kong, plus those closer to home such as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Since the 1960s these havens have provided cover for tax evasion, tax avoidance, fraud, financial irregularity, financial incompetence and for the transfer and general theft of wealth away from those who deserve it and toward those who fucking well don’t.

Because they were small, the islands lacked the will and the political nous to resist. They were seduced by the rich and powerful, and before they realised it, they were trapped.

But if these havens are the web, then the City of London Corporation is the spider. It feasts on those who are unwittingly trapped. A state within a state, it is ruled by business interests and has for centuries been untouchable, acting above even the Queen herself.

In the City, votes of residents are vastly outnumbered by the votes of corporations. Here, democracy isn’t just dead, it has never been alive. This is the brains of the operation, where the new British Empire has been devised and where the rewards are reaped.

Financiers of the world come here to play, because they know there are no rules to stop them. When a multinational sets up work in a developing nation, it makes sure to funnel the profits it makes back to the City of London spider, via a web of tax havens where the money gets lost in a black hole of underhand accountancy.

Developing nations – unable to establish their own robust regulatory frameworks thanks to an unhealthy mix of IMF bribery, fear, desperation and a lack of legal expertise – have grotesquely failed to redistribute the wealth gained from plundering their natural resources and exploiting their workforces.

Instead, the wealth has been taken offshore, either by corporations or by corrupt rulers who are themselves the product of colonialism. This British Empire, in its covert form, is at least as destructive as it was in the overt, colonial years.

The key difference is deniability. It is secretive, hidden, intangible and distant. But the only evidence you need is the famines, the civil wars and the poverty which has become rampant in post-colonial Africa.

The continent provides us copious quantities of oil, diamonds, gold, platinum, bauxite, copper, cobalt, coltan, chromite, coffee, cocoa, cotton and many other commodities beginning with c. But relatively, African countries are worse off now than they were under colonial rule.

The rush to decolonise left newly independent nations vulnerable. The corporations took advantage and ensured that profits from farming, mining and cheap manufacturing labour would not be wasted on infrastructural improvements or public services.

Perversely, these countries are now in debt to Britain and other former European imperial powers. After centuries of abuse at our hands, hands that are soaked in blood, the capitalists claim it is Africa that owes us money.

And this is what makes it all the more disgusting. We are being lied to. We are being fooled. It’s time to break this shit into the open. Aid is merely a sticky plaster on a severed limb.

Transparency, democracy, accountability and responsibility can be the only solutions.

We must end this now, or else, we’ll forever remain as slaves to our colonial masters.


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