Current Affairs Economics Politics

The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire

The 2017 documentary by the filmmaker Michael Oswald and the economist John Christensen examining the United Kingdom’s transformation into a global financial centre, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire, has just been released on YouTube and is well worth a watch.

10 comments on “The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire

  1. An excellent documentary – recommended watching.
    The financial empire of the City of London and it’s collaborating former colony tax and intransparency havens like Jersey and the Cayman Islands is responsible for close on half the world’s tax evasion, laundering of gangster money and stashing away of cash stolen by local elites in the developing world. It has caused immense damage by facilitating the rich and criminal to steal from the poor. There must be millions of deaths due to poverty and despair that one could lay at the door or the City of London and its collaborators.


    • No wonder Putin gave support to Brexit it’s to ensure his cronies will get sanctions relief for thieving Russians of their rightful money.


      • Pat murphy

        Who mentioned Russia. This piece is about the corruption in British banking or is that thought too much to contemplate. The law abiding brits have been stealing for centuries and they appear intent on continueing to do the same.


      • London largely voted to remain in the EU. While Brexit was obviously a horrible idea, in the short to medium term, it could be extremely inconvenient to the the City of London.

        Despite that Brexit could make reforming this situation harder in the long run. Britain could end up dominated by right-wing politics of Scotland opts to choose the EU over the UK., or even just over the politics food fights generated by Brexit.

        Also for a nation with such a weak Democracy (unwritten Constitution, Monarch, much of Parliament unelected, insane libel laws) pushing for reform within Britain might be hard tactically, and without the EU’s influence the options for a push from outside are thin.


    • The amount of Russian roubles and petro-dollars squirrelled away in London is astonishing. The despots and oligarchs used London as their backup bolthole in case of catastrophe. Now their Western equivalents are looking to New Zealand as their Armageddon safe haven. What a world!


  2. This is a good documentary in terms explaining how toxic the situation is, and how it evolved. The information was good and the context well laid out. Particularly liked the explaination of how the whole “City of London” (vs London) came to be. (Didn’t realize there were un-elected members of The House of Commons).

    But I have some quibbles

    It’s probably a bad idea to conflate this situation with actual British Colonialism-where the “Red Coats” can actually march through your community. (Also “Second British Empire” often means the period starting somewhere between the American Revolution and the Conquest of India, yes?)

    While this situation has been horrible for many African countries in particular (some former British colonies some not), I suspect that nearly all of them would be much worse off if they either became or had remained actual British colonies.

    Also not sure how relevant English peoples’ communication style is to that problem. Yes, they definitely do used a lot of coded talk and innuendo. But if every British person born after a certain year became as blunt as Germans or New Yorkers, could we just presume that the system would fall once they were old enough to takeover? Or is it more a matter of meaningful reforms?


    • Fair points. Since the British Empire also used economic leverage as well as military might from the 18th to mid-20th century, I suppose the use of the term “empire” is not that far off. And the argument is that one form of imperialism fed into another, indeed was the foundation stone of it.


      • I am familiar with that argument, and to be honest am not fond of the “colonialism only changed forms theory”. One conceptual problem is that it depends very heavily on both a rather simplified and highly deterministic model of history (which tends to share many assumptions with conservative and pro-Colonialist British historians) and what sociologist would call “rigid structuralism”. Both of which having been falling out of favor with social scientists for quite some time, and have always contained some really strange assumptions despite having a cache with a lot of people.

        A more empirical and practical problem is that there seems to be a really weak correlation between how much a country may be suffering under this system and how long (or even if!!) it was actually a British colony. Factors such as weak governments, cronyism, and a low middle/working class tax base to ensure that there’s some money in the coffers seems to be a stronger predictor than history with the actual or “original” British Empire. And related to that Switzlerland can be just as bad with their secret banks (Nazi Gold?) even thought they were never big on establishing foreign colonies. (They had a few in Africa and even within the “original 13” before the American Revolution.) Finally some countries that were recent VICTIMS of British colonialism such as China is starting to “get into the game” when it comes to harboring this kind of “hidden money”.

        Obviously any playbook for reform either international or within various countries, will have to take Britain’s starring role in much of this very, very seriously. But to just say “Well it’s The Second British Empire” will tend to promote a misleading and inaccurate roadmap.

        Finally, a more moral problem as I see it, would be the cavalier attitude it takes (you see this in most rigid structuralists!!!) towards things like Democracy and Human Rights. Such theories tend to downplay the significance of Democratic governments found in many former British colonies.

        Does it not come across as mirroring the logical or pro-Colonial Britons or maybe even racist to presume that having a Democratic government simply doesn’t matter to the people in India, for example?

        In a way that reminds me of people I know who argue that the Emancipation Proclamation/13th Amendment (end of slavery in the US) and The Civil Rights Movement “didn’t change anything”.


        • Interesting. And sure, there is the question of independent agency in terms of the choices made by nation-states tangled up in the Western financial web. But when that system, in part, was an almost inescapable legacy of colonialism and most post-colonial states were sucked into it from the get-go?

          If you take independent Ireland, it was burdened with an economy and society ravaged by centuries of colonial exploitation and only barely getting on its feet at the start of the 20th century (albeit with huge imbalances and favouritism for those who towed the UK line), was crippled with the loss of its industrial north-east following partition, burdened with a country wrecked by several years of war, forced to carry the UK’s imperial debts for twenty years, engaged in a trade war with the UK in the 1930s, thrown into disarray by the outbreak of the Troubles in the mid-1960s and so on. Much of that situation was made worse by the UK’s disproportionate financial influence/hold over the country.

          Something that didn’t change until well into our membership of the EU.

          Admittedly, every situation is different but colonialism, actual or historical, was at the root of those issues.


          • If you look at India they’ve just surpassed the UK as the world’s fifth largest economy this year. (Score one for the world’s largest Democracy.) While that country has had a long painful road from 1947 to where it is today, and still suffers many social problems. Some of those problems weren’t Britain’s fault such as the caste system. Even Gandhi’s legacy is sometimes blamed for misogyny in modern India. But one thing large ended immediately when the British Raj was replaced by a stable if flawed Democracy: endemic famine. It’s true that modern Independent India had a few close calls in the 60’s and 70’s (some with visibly hungry people) but they haven’t seen the mass death scenarios (often double digit millions) that were common under the British.

            So obviously a nation can struggle quite a bit after independence (for reason that don’t require some weird “colonialism never want away” theory), and for quite a long time. But that doesn’t always change the fact that the citizens may still be much better off in a very, short period of time.

            Where I am there is in some circles and “emerging” school of thought that rejects the concept of Neo-Colonialism while still condemning many of the practices that have gotten that label. Partly the idea is that with the “neo-colonialism” model you can end up like the general who is fighting a previous war not the current one. The other part is that to downplay the agency of people in various countries as simply programmed or duped by their current or even former colonial overloads, as its own racist and colonialist way of thinking, and tends to trivialize what full blown colonialism was actually like.

            While Ireland is of course in some ways a special case partly due to being right next to Britain….it’s still clear that citizens of the Irish Republic still enjoy rights and freedom that obviously weren’t the case under Britain. Hell, in some ways you have a more Democratic country that the UK is even for English people.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: