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A blueprint for future legislation: Layla Moran reviews 'Butler to the World'

A blueprint for future legislation: Layla Moran reviews 'Butler to the World'

Alamy

4 min read

Insightful and readable, Oliver Bullough exposes how Britain has become a global centre for laundering the money of oligarchs, kleptocrats and gangsters – and the scale of the challenge we now face in tackling it

How did we get here?” was the question I asked in the Chamber in my contribution to the rushed passing of the Economic Crime Bill in March. Indeed it is the question parliamentarians and punters alike are asking as we assess the scale of Russian infiltration in our society, economy and politics following Vladimir Putin’s heartless and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. 

The revelation of extensive links between Putin-supporting Russian oligarchs and our country has forced the United Kingdom to look itself in the mirror. Ordinary people are now realising that UK governments of all colours have – perhaps wilfully, perhaps inadvertently, if conveniently – overlooked those links. In his new book Butler to the World, Oliver Bullough gives insight into some of our questions. If you want to remain coddled in cotton wool, believing in old-fashioned Victorian British morality, look away now.

Bullough’s central theme is to compare Britain to a “butler” like the fictional Jeeves – an amoral actor whose job it is to quietly and efficiently achieve the best possible outcome for his master. Jeeves does not seem to mind how his employer acts, nor his intentions or motivations. His job is, quite simply, to make it happen.

This theme threads across 10 very readable chapters told through personal anecdotes born of decades of research and activism. We start in London, with an American academic asking seemingly obvious questions about how money and power flow through our economy. He finds himself bewildered at the opacity of our financial systems. 

Bullough takes us on a journey through time and space to leave the reader feeling, perhaps not that they have all the answers, but that they have at least peeped behind the curtain and understood the scale of the challenge we face. 

Bullough finds himself bewildered at the opacity of our financial systems

The story begins with Suez and the quest for a declining empire to reassert its position of influence on the world stage. Enter the City of London and the invention of “financial innovations” such as the eurodollar enabling money to flow more easily through the coffers of London and New York. Bullough traces this money through the British Virgin Islands, and its shell companies, to Gibraltar and its addition to gambling money, to addresses in Glasgow that serve as post boxes  for Scottish Limited Partnerships. Indeed, on SLPs this was the most accessible explanation that I had come across.

The author’s frustration crescendos towards the final chapters – especially directed at Westminster. The argument is that as money flows more easily between countries, it becomes a race to see which country can attract the most. The UK has become especially adept, and successive governments turned a blind eye to more nefarious forces. The bigger the flows get, the more money they can get to pay for public services. He tantalisingly tells the story of Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, and the sale of an old underground station to a Putin-linked Ukrainian oligarch, a useful example of how willing we seem to sell our assets to the highest bidder without interrogating the origin of the wealth. He outlines just how woefully inadequate our institutions are at catching and prosecuting dirty money – particularly the lack of resources to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the huge sums paid to enablers helping the corrupt launder their reputations and avoid scrutiny.

The book concludes by setting lawmakers a challenge. Do we close the loopholes that let the bad people get away with it? Will we grasp the nettle and finally rid ourselves of this rot for good? Or will we yet again be all hyperbole but realise that it’s just too hard – that we have become so reliant on this new world order and our subservient role in it that the pain of the operation would kill the patient?

Well, I for one won’t be giving up any time soon, and in this book I found a blueprint for what legislation we need to focus on.

Layla Moran is Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

 

'Butler to the World: How Britain became the servant of oligarchs, tax dodgers, kleptocrats and criminals'
Written by: Oliver Bullough
Publisher: Profile Books

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