Saturday, 18 December 2010

UK Uncut's campaign is offensive, immoral and wrong


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!



Eddy Anderson said...


I was genuinely expecting something more insightful from this post.

I am with you when you say that the government has a responsibility; I am with you when you say that 'attempts to use mob violence to force voluntary payments from individuals is a negation of liberty'. But in general, your post feels more like an argument-parody than an actual argument.

'The businesses and individuals being attacked by UK Uncut are not responsible [...] the British Government is responsible.' This is a half-truth. You are conflating proximate and ultimate causes: the government is ultimately wrong for the existence of tax loopholes, but that doesn't mean the people who abuse these loopholes are somehow exempt.

This is something I think you half-recognize. You refer early on to 'loopholes', for example. But you don't push the point. What you seem to advocate is a preservation of a status quo, even if that status quo is completely nonsensical (e.g., Philip Green forwarding his profits through his wife in Malta). This is Conservativism at its worst.

You also do your argument no credit when you parody your opponents: 'that uniquely smug selfishness we associate with some on the left.' Rather than engaging in ridiculous straw man beating, perhaps you could steer your attention to the point at hand?

This post, to me, seems to have little to do with the ins and outs of the UK Uncut campaign. Judging by your penultimate paragraph, this is a rehash of the familiar 'Big Government has failed' complaint. I agree with some - much, even - of what you say;, but I really do find the nub of what you are suggesting quite impossible to swallow.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Hold on, Eddy, could I ask if you are of the left persuasion? The reason I ask that is that the left believe that legislation is the tool for making people do what is right, many times at the expense of responsibility and duty.

Yet here you appear to argue the opposite. That when laws aren't satisfactory to effect the 'correct' outcome, people should use their common sense and obligate themselves to do what is considered 'right'.

An over-reliance to rules and coercion, I would suggest, leads to a human reaction which adheres only to prescribed rules and lessens personal responsibility and the obligations you believe businesses should adhere to.

Just asking. :)

Plus, I'd like to know why UKUncut aren't targeting the Guardian's offices. You know, the newspaper group which routinely avoids tax?

Eddy Anderson said...


'Left' and 'Right' are rather old-fashioned categories, don't you think? But with regards to your inference that I am arguing against legislative reform, you are wrong. You would also be wrong, however, to infer that I consider legislative reform the only response to the problem.

Again, I refer you to the issue of ultimate and proximate causation: a bad tax system is the ultimate cause, but the people who abuse that system are also a factor (the proximate cause). I think I made that pretty clear?

And with regards to the Guardian Media Group--I agree. This is something which requires far more scrutiny.

Denny said...

"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."

I don't think you've read much about UK Uncut at all if you think that, because it's exactly wrong.

UK Uncut are targeting high profile examples to make a general point. Nobody (okay, almost nobody) expects Vodafone to resettle an already settled tax evasion legal case (yes, that one was alleged evasion, that's why it was heading to court), or Arcadia to voluntarily pay tax to the UK government that it avoided by paying a huge dividend to a resident of Monaco. What UK Uncut would like to see is HMRC contesting future cases similar to the Vodafone one more strongly (as they were that case, until the Tories got elected and changed the team contesting it), and to change the law to remove or reduce the kind of loopholes exploited by people like Philip Green.

So - either deliberately, or through ignorance, you've set up a straw man here. What UK Uncut want is political reform for the future, not retroactive handling of specific cases. By making their point on the (high) street, they get more publicity for the general point they're making, and highlight some of the worst excesses at the same time (which in turn slightly increases the marginal cost of tax avoidance, by causing people to consider shopping elsewhere).

One last reason for demonstrating on high streets instead of near Parliament, is that it tends to mean the general public see how the police handle things... which in turn tends to magically reduce the level of violence the police employ against protestors.

Simon Cooke said...

However Denny, you do make my point rather splendidly! Ukuncut's purpose is to get certain individuals - defined as tax avoiders - pay more money in order to avoid the need to make spending cuts.

It remains the case that you - and UK Uncut - want to extract more money from these individuals. It is that which offends me. And more to the point, you comment seems to be an exercise in post hoc rationalisation.

UK Uncut don't want political reform however just higher taxes.