This film tells the fascinating story about the murky world of offshore finance. The connections between its historical roots and today’s impact on the lives of all of us are laid bare in shocking clarity. This film is a must for everyone who tries to make sense of the modern economy and the rise of inequality – it is the best I have seen to date on that subject.
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“A fascinating, informative film asking all the right questions”
Here in Brexit Britain we find ourselves in a peculiar situation. In spite of having done pretty well out of Europe, including our various rebates, opt-outs and special deals, fifth richest country in the world and all that, we have suddenly rebelled, storming out of the arrangement in a strop, angry about something that no one can quite articulate – it might be the straightness of bananas or democratic accountability, or something else entirely.
Meanwhile, the political left appear to have given up talking in a language that most people understand (mysterious references to “social issues” really don’t cut it) and the populace seems to see no contradiction in buying arguments about “freedom” and “control” from people who live here but are domiciled for tax purposes elsewhere (Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail), people who actually live in tax havens (the Barclay brothers of the Daily Telegraph), or in the USA (Rupert Murdoch of News International). And, most notably of all, from people based over here but whose allegiances are over the Atlantic (how UKIP’s Nigel Farage and his paymaster Arron Banks love being photographed with the new US president).
How we got here isn’t the subject of Michael Oswald’s latest film, but The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire does shed some light on the miasma of weird that has taken hold of the zeitgeist, when, after 40 years of a “free market” experiment that has seen living standards for many stagnate or fall, people seem to be voting for more not less of the same thing and are blaming “globalisation” for policies masterminded and put into effect by their own governments.
A brilliant film, skillfully deploying the documentary staples of archive footage and expert talking heads to tell its story, which by its nature risks being technical and fragmented, in an accessible and compelling way. The narrative is framed by reference to the evolution of the UK from an imperial to a financial one, but the issues are wider and more immediate: the systemic, structural opacity and corruption at the heart of a world purportedly governed in the interests of respectable business and in accordance with the rule of law.
Film maker Michael Oswald and TJN’s John Christensen have co-produced a new film about Britain’s tax haven empire. Titled The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire, the film, which is ready for release, draws heavily on Nick Shaxson’s ground-breaking book Treasure Islands, and uses historical footage to show how for over half a century, successive British governments have put tax havenry at the heart of Britain’s development strategy. In director Michael Oswald’s words:
“After reading “Treasure Islands,” I realized that there was an interesting, coherent and self-contained story that had not been told, the story of Britain’s transformation from a colonial power to a financial power, and the myriad and obscure financial structures created by City of London financial interests that lie at the heart of this transformation.”
For co-producer John Christensen, who has spent his entire career investigating tax havens around the world, London’s role as the epicentre of Britain’s tax haven empire makes it the most harmful offshore financial centre on the planet. As he explains in this extract from his statement on the film website:
“Along the way I spoke with hundreds of bankers, lawyers, accountants, officials from the senior Whitehall departments, at the OECD in Paris, and the IMF in Washington, seeing at first hand the downright criminality of the pinstripe infrastructure of professionals who operate from secrecy jurisdictions like Jersey.
I also discovered that secrecy jurisdictions had moved from being minor players on the economic periphery to becoming the beating core of financial capitalism, with London as its epicentre.”
‘The Spiders Web’ lays bare the corruption that led to the UK being at the heart of the world’s tax haven and dirty money network
In 2011 Bick Shaxson shattered the secrecy of the City of London with his book Treasure Islands. Now Michael Oswald has, in effect, turned the story into a film that achieves the same result.
‘The Spiders Web’ lays bare the corruption that led to the UK being at the heart of the world’s tax haven and dirty money network, and explains just how it stays there. Experienced tax justice campaigners, academics and politicians, backed on occasion by an unsupportive cast from the States of Jersey police (watch it and see) make it clear that the UK has become dependent upon corruption for its apparent well-being.
This film is shocking, persuasive, factual and shaming. Watch it and you won’t view bankers, lawyers, accountants or many in our political elite in the same way ever again.
Professor of Practice in International Political Economy, University of London.
The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire is Michael Oswald’s newest revelatory feature documentary – one which is as important to Britain as Ava Du Vernay’s 13th (2016) is to Americans. Both place national history into a disturbing modern context! It parallels Du Vernay’s deduction that in giving up overt slavery, American elites subverted the 13th Constitution of the United States to utilise the judicial system to funnel unpaid prison inmate labour into the business sector, thereby subsidising rising production costs and preserve the lost profits. It also restricted the power of white society’s ‘unwanted elements’ through incarceration.
(Link below includes the rest of the review and a Q&A, not a very positive review, but then the review is based on a comparison to a documentary with an estimated $1 million budget made by industry insiders…..)