Tax the Seriously Rich to Stop Cuts
It became unfashionable during Labour’s days in power in Westminster, but mainstream politicians need to use their public profiles to trigger discussion about taxing the seriously rich, and not allow the media to get away with misleadingly translating this in to an attack on the middle classes.
A couple of weeks ago, Art Uncut carried out a peaceful protest at Glastonbury against U2 for putting their money through foreign banks to avoid taxes. While the Guardian reported a heavy-handed response by the festivals private security, I was also intrigued by the public response.
Watching on television, I could hear the cheering from the crowd as the security removed the banner. There were also news interviews with festival-goers who didn’t agree with the protests and on the Guardian’s comments section I found one post which summed up the negative comments: “So U2 moved their tax affairs to the Netherlands? So what? I challenge any person here to say that they wouldn’t pay less tax if they could.”
It’s easy to dismiss this as fans just wanting to see a band play and not really being interested in taxation, but I think there is a more worrying side to this. It’s easy to find posts all over the internet critical about UK Uncut actions, such as this sarcastic one about Topshop and Vodafone protests: “Yeah, right. Let’s all pay the maximum amount tax due, let’s all stop using entirely legal ways to reduce our tax bill. Who’s first? Nobody? Thought so.”
The argument is that it’s hypocritical to campaign against tax evasion because none of us volunteer to pay more taxes than we have to and, if popular brands like U2 and Topshop aren’t breaking the law, then they are not fair game for protests.
If we are surrounded in day-to-day life by likeminded people we like to assume that the anti-cuts movement is supported by everyone, but I fear that these pro-cut anti-tax beliefs are more widely held than I’d like to believe. And all too often the popularity of brands like U2 and Topshop overwhelms the messages of the anti-cuts movement.
And I blame politicians. In particular mainstream left of centre Members of Parliament who know that taxing the rich would bring millions of pounds in to the public sector which could save essential services from being cut, but how often do you hear them say this in public? Politicians are in a unique position to get this debate out to the public – they have access to the media, and ability to build profile of campaigns, in way that organisations like UK Uncut really need.
Politicians are also the only people who can deal with the hypocrite accusation. Simply, the fact this kind of tax-evasion remains legal gives the public impression that it is fair practice. Politicians should be arguing for laws to be changed to make businesses trading in the UK pay fair taxes.
When Topshop -owner Sir Philip Green’s wife received a £1.2 billion tax-free dividend in 2005, all Labour MPs should have been publicly up in arms. Tax law should have been changed to stop this kind of money from being moved out of businesses trading in the UK without tax penalties, I’m sure there are a number of ways this could be done. And politicians should have been using their media presence to explain that this is not the same as a middle class person taking advantage of any regular tax-breaks. This is like a tax-break specifically for the mega–rich and it’s grossly unfair.