Review by Joel Benjamin on opendemocracy.com
The Spider’s Web offers unique insight into the British Empire, both past and present, and its colonies and far flung outposts. This is a story which, if known at all, is often understood through a rose tinted view of what that British Empire actually represented. The Spider’s Web details how the former Empire was transformed after World War 2 into a new financial empire of offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.
Nicholas Shaxson, author of ‘Treasure Islands’, notes that the historians Cain and Hopkins called the City of London the “Governor of the Imperial engine”, so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that ‘the City’ still controls the reigns of Britain’s second-run financial services empire, with as much as 25% of the global offshore market controlled by Britain and its satellites.
As City University’s Ronan Palan observes:
“The City of London is a truly unique and interesting phenomenon, which should have attracted the attention of political scientists and economists, but I don’t know of anyone, who has systematically studied the Corporation of London and its impacts on policy and economic policy.”
The City of London and the Bank of England, experiencing a crisis of legitimacy marked by Britain’s declining global influence following World War 2 and the Suez crisis,
The British Empire is a thing of the distant past, long dead and buried. But, out of the ashes a new, more destructive empire emerged; one that couldn’t be controlled, one that couldn’t be tracked, and one that ensures that the elite stay in control and the ordinary person being kept down. The Spider’s Web is the story of Britain’s transformation from a colonial power to a financial power, exploring how the financial structures created by City of London financial interests lie at the heart of this transformation.
The film was self funded with a budget of £4000, and came to be after the director’s interest in Nicholas Shaxson’s “Treasure Islands”, a book that detailed the on-goings of a secret off shore bank based in the Cayman islands. As director, Michael Oswald began to unpick the web of corruption, lies and deceit, it was revealed that the on-goings in Cayman Islands are only the tip of the iceberg. Oswald was interested into exploring how Britain went from one visible empire to an invisible empire that allows tax havens to thrive and where bankers are allowed free rein to do whatever they please, and where the British government turn a blind eye.
Forget anything by John Le Carre, this is a real political drama which is more thrilling than anything seen in Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy.
A very important and necessary documentary, in light of ongoing financial crises in many countries, supposedly necessitating austerity programs and privatisations of state-owned companies and corporations that have the effect of impoverishing the vast majority of people in those countries while leading to capital flight and the enrichment of elites, both local and foreign, “The Spider’s Web …” takes as its premise the notion that the British empire never really died; instead the empire transformed itself from a physical entity with a network of colonies covering the planet into an empire in the abstract: a financial empire whose network is flows of money and whose colonies are tax havens cum secrecy jurisdictions. At the heart of this second empire, as it was of the first, is the City of London, a political institution founded by the Romans and thus much older than the English people themselves, and which controls the British Parliament through having a seat there and the City Remembrancer who is the channel of communication between the City of London and the British government.
Review by Mathew D. Rose and David Shirreff on braveneweurope.com
Should you be having difficulties making sense of the “Paradise Papers” or simply not know much about tax havens, then Michael Oswald’s documentary film “The Spider’s Web: Britain’s second empire” is the ideal place to begin. The film, which premiered just a few months ago, tells the story of how tax havens came into existence, how and what they do, and why, despite their socially destructive business model, they continue to thrive.
The narrative begins after World War II when the United Kingdom loses its colonies. The City of London, once the financial heart of the British Empire, finding its existence threatened by the dissolution of empire, transforms itself into a global financial centre. Using some of Britain’s remaining territories, especially small islands in the Caribbean; the City establishes offshore secrecy jurisdictions, where money can be surreptitiously deposited before flowing to the City of London. The tax havens became magnets for dirty money, be it from drugs, corruption, or tax evasion, to name a few. The film explains the magic of the financial trust, which allows beneficiaries to be hidden from public view.
Screening The Spider's Web at the Investigative Film Festival Skopje on the 5th of November 2017
Review by Nicholas Wilson (AKA Mr. Ethical)
This film made me think of Schumann’s description of Chopin’s music – “cannons hidden among flowers”. Sumptuous images of tropical islands and pomp and ceremony in the City of London, and the calm, reassuring delivery of the financial experts lulls you into a sense of shock and helplessness. As John Chrisensen says, the offshore tax jurisdictions are Frankensteins created by the City of London. Up to half of the world’s offshore wealth is hidden in Britain’s secrecy jurisdictions.
It is a film by Michael Oswald about how the British Empire of colonial power transformed into an empire of financial power. As the British Empire declined, so did the City of London.
“Treasure Islands” author Nicholas Shaxson explains how the Cayman islands were a backwater in the 1960s until the accountants and lawyers descended and created secrecy jurisdictions, and straightforward illegality. And so the last remnants of the British Empire became tax havens. By 1997 nearly all international loans were made through the offshore market.
The film proceeds to describe what a weird creature the City of London is, with images of pomp and ceremony, brass bands, and ermine. The Lord Mayor’s Show is the world’s oldest civic procession. We learn that the City was the only part of Britain that William the Conqueror didn’t actually conquer; he allowed it to remain separate. Its practices remain stuck in the Middle Ages.
However many times the culture of the City is portrayed it remains a curious throwback and the film expertly depicts this anachronism, without, inevitably, being able to reveal its secret workings, but creating an appropriate sense of disbelief.
A film on why Corbyn's Labour isn't radical enough by Tim Russo
Too scary radical, they say about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Well, not really. Just ask the Worshipful Whatnots in the Corporation of the City of London.
Britain once hotly debated whether or not to cast the 1,000 year old medieval relic of the Corporation into the dustbin. By the time of municipal reform fervor at the height of Victorian empire (mid 1800’s), the City had long been seen by the radical left as “the home of the devilry of modern finance”, a century before it became the tax haven black hole of Earth. Rising British socialism went to the mat to destroy the Corporation, losing a public PR battle in the 1880’s won largely by the pomp & circumstance of the Lord Mayor’s Show parade. By 1890, the City killed parliamentary legislation aimed at it for good, convincing Britain, with a parade, that empire was a shared glory, rich to poor.
by Inka on occupylondonfilm.com
The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire produced by John Christensen (co-founder of the Tax Justice Network) and directed by Michael Oswald, is a documentary film that shows how Britain transformed from a colonial power into a global financial power. That is a nice way of saying from a thieving, murdering bastard to a thieving, man-slaughtering bastard. Yes yes all bastards have a nice side too. Complicated beings them bastards.
Met zijn film wil hij iedereen laten zien hoe belastingparadijzen en in het bijzonder offshore banking voor het overgrote deel van de wereldbevolking desastreus uitpakt. En als voormalig accountant op het Britse 'belastingeiland' Jersey kan John Christensen het weten. "Veel van de problemen waarmee de wereld kampt, zijn te herleiden naar het ontwijken van belasting."
Van achterhoedegevecht tot talk of the town: de strijd tegen internationale belastingontwijking en het blootleggen van de beweegredenen van overheden om bedrijven en de allerrijksten te ontzien met fiscale voordeeltjes, staat sinds de Panama Papers in de belangstelling van het grote publiek.
«Idet det britiske imperiet gikk inn i solnedgangen, satte bankierer, advokater og regnskapsførere fra City of London opp et edderkoppnett av hemmelige offshore-jurisdiksjoner som skulle fange rikdom fra hele verden og kanaliserte den til London.»
Med denne uttalelsen starter Michael Oswalds kraftfulle og tilgjengelige film.
Bilder ledsaget av en fortellerstemme viser det britiske imperiets nedgang og fall – tropper og lokalt politi som slår løs på demonstranter; en manøvrerende tanks med et menneskehode montert på pansret – og uttrykker tydelig filmens tidsaktuelle tese.
«At the twilight of the British Empire, bankers, lawyers and accountants from the City of London set up a spider’s web of offshore secrecy jurisdictions that captured wealth from across the globe and funnelled it to London.»
This on-screen statement opens Michael Oswald’s powerful and accessible film.
Voice-over images of the decline and end of the British Empire – troops and native police beating back crowds of demonstrators; tanks on exercises, a human skull mounted on the hull of one – enunciate the film’s timely thesis.
By John Christensen in inews
The Spider’s Web is a documentary about how the City of London emerged from the demise of the British Empire in the 1950s and re-established itself as the leading global financial centre. The mainstream narrative is that British bankers and lawyers are particularly adept at providing financial services to big corporations and wealthy elites across the world, British justice is trusted across the planet, and London provides a politically stable and competitive base for international finance.
Much of that narrative is true. Wealthy elites do trust the British courts to protect their assets, even when they’ve been looted from the poorest countries. The City of London does indeed host a cluster of specialised banks and law firms which can provide sophisticated tax avoidance services to the biggest of multinational companies.