Today I have been sorely tried indeed. Not, dear reader, as a result of problems with the weather – we can’t really get cross with nature however annoying she may be and however futile our hubristic pretence of control. No, my irritation has been sparked by UK Uncut and their offensive, immoral and selfish mission to:
…become part of an army of citizen volunteers determined to make wealthy tax avoiders pay.
The basic premise of this campaign is that individuals and businesses that have done nothing wrong, have broken no laws and, in reality, contribute enormously to the betterment of our nation must be targeted because they are “tax dodgers”.
Alright, I hear you, how can you describe these protests as ‘offensive’ and ‘immoral’ – surely folk have a right to protest? Well let me explain a little.
The first thing to observe is that governments determine the nature and level of taxation not businesses or individuals – however wealthy or successful. Any complex tax system – and dear old Gordon made ours among the most complicated – contains contradictions, loopholes and provisions that can be used to reduce tax liability. The businesses and individuals being attacked by UK Uncut are not responsible for the problem (assuming we see it as a problem) – the British Government is responsible. And let’s remember that, for the arrangements criticised in Vodaphone and Sir Philip Green’s case, it was a Labour Government.
Which brings us to the morality of all this. Rightly or wrongly, the UK Government has settled the tax affairs of these organisations and individuals for the money to which UK Uncut refer. We may feel that not enough tax has been paid but it would be wrong – unjust, to use the sort of language beloved of protesting folk – to retrospectively change the tax treatment.
A second problem with UK Uncut’s morality is their belief that it is right for them to demand other people hand over more money to the government – to, in effect, demand money with menaces. Not, I might add, to argue that government should change the rules on which we are all taxed but to demand specific extra taxes from identified individual people and businesses. Simply because UK Uncut has decided that these people did not pay enough. Not only are such demands offensive they are again immoral – attempts to use mob violence to force voluntary payments from individuals is a negation of liberty.
Finally, we should remind ourselves of the selfishness these protests represent – that uniquely smug selfishness we associate with some on the left. Some kind of magic garden filled with money trees has been identified – look there at those rich people, they have money. Take it off them and, you’ve guessed it, give it to us. Or we will disrupt you business – and the lives of ordinary folk who just want to do a bit of Christmas shopping. As Labour blogger, Luke Bozier put it:
No group of protestors has the right close down a store which is operating legally. It's illegal and wrong to walk into a store and stop it from carrying out its legitimate business. Who on earth do UK Uncut think they are to stop people from using popular shops like Topshop and Marks & Spencer? The customers and staff are adversely affected, the company loses money from the sales lost and ultimately the state suffers from a reduced tax receipt.
And all to preserve whole floors of policy officers, rooms full of equalities advisors, armies of training officers, HR consultants and cabinet support teams. To carry on taxing ordinary – and some creative and extraordinary people – to penury so as to maintain a bloated, arrogant and ineffective state system. A system where millions are spent on a CCTV system that can’t identify the thugs who hammered my son. Where we double the spending on schools and get more semi-literates. And where we pour money into the bottomless pit of the NHS and get a service-free, ignorant and nannying health system that sees us less healthy and shorter-lived compared to our near neighbours.
The Big State has failed. It’s not just the need to reduce spending because of the deficit – although that’s to be sorted. It’s that the model – the tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend – does not deliver what we want; good services. We should stop pretending that our public services are – in any respect –comparable in service quality to the typical standards in the private sector. And we should also stop pretending that those public services offer value-for-money – compared to the private sector they are expensive, rules-bound and ineffective.
So get off your high horses UK Uncut – your campaign is immoral and your objectives would condemn our nation to further decline, higher unemployment, poorer services and a depressed, cowed public. Or at least the ones who can’t plan their escape!