A year ago I braved the November and December colds to be part of a protest outside London’s flagship Vodafone store. I was also roughly bundled out of Topshop in Oxford Circus, chanted ‘Philip Green pay your tax’ at the BHS store on the same street, and was there when Boots shut down their store in the face of protests.
UKuncut were universally derided on the right and scoffed at by some within the Labour party for their tactics and targets. “Labour should not be the party of protest,” said movement-builder Dan Hodges, while displaying selective amnesia about the history of the Labour party.
But no one had ever tried to raise public awareness of corporate tax
avoidance before, and certainly no one had got the Daily Mail on side on
it either. Only UKuncut managed that.
There’s no doubt that today’s report, on the front page of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (even in the Sun!), pointing out that corporations had avoided at least £25 billion in tax, is vindication for UKuncut.
While senior Labour MPs were sympathetic, they didn’t say much on the issue in public. Only Chuka Umunna (now in the shadow cabinet) focused attention on Barclays’ own legal loopholes to avoid tax. This has now finally changed.
I also think UKuncut’s success makes three points:
» It’s possible to raise awareness of almost any issue however boring it may seem, with a bit of innovative thinking.
» You need a variety of methods and stunts to get your point across: they demonstrated in front of shops; filmed themselves paying a visit to Dave Hartnett of the HMRC; set up a legal fund to sue the HMRC.
» Direct action can work, especially in tandem with other institutions and actions. Activists may not like to admit it, but what finished off the HMRC’s credibility on the issue was Margaret Hodge MP, who outspokenly accused Hartnett of “lying”. Labour MPs may not like it but action by outside groups can help lay the ground for them to move further left too.
For perhaps the first time, UKuncut have also managed to get the Taxpayers Alliance and the unions on the same side.
To be sure, the journey hasn’t been without controversy. The Fortnum & Mason’s action backfired (thanks to lies by the Met police) and they’ve continuously been attacked from right-wingers and anarchist groups.
But their detractors will no doubt have to eat their own words. Going into Christmas, UKuncut have every right to be proud of what they’ve achieved over the last year by coming up with new ideas and tactics to relentlessly focus on one key issue.
Cross-posted with thanks from Liberal Conspiracy