Why UKuncut doesn’t directly target the HMRC


by Sunny
20th February, 2011 at 4:16 pm    

David Allen Green is a man with a fine lawyerly mind, but you wouldn’t want him to decide strategy for your campaign. He says UKuncut are choosing “the wrong targets”.

This ignores a basic campaign strategy if you’re trying to highlight an important issue: go for the most high profile target / example. That ensures the issue is much more discussed and debated, and therefore influences public opinion on the issue.

For years, campaigners for better workers rights in China didn’t focus on the Chinese govt or those who owned local factories – they focused on shaming Nike or Gap. And it worked.

And there is plenty of evidence to show that UKuncut’s focus on high street companies such as Vodafone, Topshop and now Barclays have forced tax avoidance on to public agenda agenda. It has also forced the HMRC to react in response.

So while this may be a logical piece of advice, but it is not the most astute or tactically useful piece of advice to any campaign.

This point is aside to whether you think tax avoidance is ok or not; it is purely about strategy. I’ve written a separate article with four reasons why tax avoidance harms our economy, including enabling terrorism.

Update: David further claims that UKuncut have had no impact other than “getting on telly”. This further misunderstands the campaign in several ways.

First, there has been a tangible impact on the HMRC. Secondly, part of their aim IS to raise tax avoidance as a widespread practice in the media. So, “getting on telly” is an entirely important part of that campaign, as it getting the Daily Mail on side to highlight corporate tax avoidance.

Third, as I keep pointing out, corporate tax avoidance is far more pernicious and widespread than personal tax avoidance.

Rumbold’s update: UKuncut’s claim that Barclays paid 1% tax has now been debunked.


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43 Comments below   |  

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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  2. UKFreeNews

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  3. Rachel

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  4. UKFreeNews

    Protestors target accurately and achieve where gvmnt fails http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/11896


  5. The Daily Quail

    Sensible but I don't agree. RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  6. Nicolas Redfern

    RT @DailyQuail: Sensible but I don't agree. RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  7. Bish Bash Bosh

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  8. Jan Bennett

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  9. Nick H.

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  10. Ellie Mae O'Hagan

    Good explanation RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  11. Neil Hughes

    RT @MissEllieMae: Good explanation RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  12. Yogesh Chandarana

    I am a "poorer version of @GuidoFawkes" according to @sunny_hundal. #ICanLiveWithThat. But, he is wrong on this one: http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  13. Wendy Maddox

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  14. Stephen Germeney

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC http://bit.ly/fXVj2H


  15. Sophia R. Matheson

    Pickled Politics » Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC: Why UKuncut doesn't directly target the HMRC. b… http://bit.ly/eGs6J9




  1. David Allen Green — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:20 pm  

    Ha – Sunny I think I know a litttle bit about campaigning (libel reform, TwitterJokeTrial).

    But, sorry, trying to close down branches of a bank on a shopping Saturday (sometimes the only dat working people can get to the bank) is a compeltely daft idea.

  2. David Allen Green — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:21 pm  

    Dat = day :-)

  3. Sunny — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:32 pm  

    But, sorry, trying to close down branches of a bank on a shopping Saturday (sometimes the only dat working people can get to the bank) is a compeltely daft idea.

    Hi David, but that’s a separate argument to one that says Barclays is the wrong target and they should target HMRC instead.

    Barclays themselves took the decision to close branches. That’s up to them. If a few people are inconvenienced – that’s a minor irritant given the numbers of people being hit by cuts, partly thanks to n Barclays not paying the full corporation tax they should be paying.

  4. James — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:34 pm  

    David, in neither of your examples is there a friendly, well-known brand that typifies the point you set out to make, so this form of campaigning is fundamentally different to your experiences.

    In this case, high visibility means high impact – I’ve spent hours on the streets talking to people about why X shop has been closed by UK Uncut action, and the number of supportive shoppers outweighs the people who are annoyed at the protesters by something like twenty to one.

    All indications thus far suggest that this is working. I doubt that the same number of people protesting outside parliament or HMRC offices would be able to say the same.

  5. fenrir — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:35 pm  

    Sunny, why do ukuncut not target Guardian Media Group who are very high profile tax avoiders, why do they attack Barclays for paying 1% and ignore the Co-op Bank who paid 1.9%. Why are they silent towards Brown, Balls and Labour who have been instrumental in drawing up the current tax code.

    Could it be that they are politically motivated troublemakers intent on trying to bring down a government the complection of which is not to their liking?

  6. Yogi Chan — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:41 pm  

    Sunny, you’re great. But, this whacks of trying to find excuses to cover up their ineffective strategy.

    Are you compelled to defend their position, just so it appears that someone with a brain is giving it credibility? Secretly, I reckon you probably agree with Green, too.

    Yes, Nike et al have been shaken up by campaigns. But, whilst standards have (very slightly) improved, they aren’t the same as Europe. The corporates give the impression that they are changing, but there isn’t any substance behind it. After all, they haven’t pulled out of the region in protest of poor labour laws, have they?

    No, they haven’t. And the reason is that corporates have a responsibility to their shareholders, not society. They have a duty to try and push the bottom line. And, who can blame them – they ARE playing by the rules.

    If you and the Nutroots crowd really want to succeed, HRMC needs to be the target. They are the rule makers. They change the rules and the corporates must abide. Either that, or show us the finger and list their shares in another country.

    Of course, when that happens, we’ll all thank the hippies.

  7. Sunny — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:49 pm  

    If you and the Nutroots crowd really want to succeed, HRMC needs to be the target.

    Yeah, thanks but do I really want to take advice from a poorer version of Guido Fawkes?

  8. James — on 20th February, 2011 at 4:49 pm  

    Fenrir,

    As far as GMG goes, my understanding right now is that they lowered their corporation tax liability by making use of a tax relief for investing their profits back into their business. That’s tax compliance, not tax avoidance – they’re using the taxation system in exactly the way in which it was intended (the purpose of that tax relief is to incentivise investment of profits).

    That’s not to say that they must therefore be squeaky clean, but until somebody shows me any evidence of serious wrongdoing (as in the case of Barclays coming up with complex offshore mechanisms for avoiding tax by fiddling with loans), then my motivation to go after GMG is pretty weak, and I’ll likely consider other targets first. I expect others feel similarly, though obviously can’t speak for them myself.

    As far as being silent towards Gordon Brown – who even *is* Gordon Brown? Right now, he’s an MP for some Scottish constituency, hardly a figure of ongoing political importance. Where would be the point in protesting against him, exactly? It’s perfectly valid to ask “Why has it taken until now, with a Conservative Government, for people to care about these issues”, but that people *didn’t* care before does not mean that they shouldn’t care now.

  9. Anna M. — on 20th February, 2011 at 5:05 pm  

    Ditto everything James has said.
    (What a lazy comment this is – I apologise but don’t withdraw it.)

  10. earwicga — on 20th February, 2011 at 5:40 pm  

    ‘If a few people are inconvenienced – that’s a minor irritant given the numbers of people being hit by cuts, partly thanks to n Barclays not paying the full corporation tax they should be paying.’

    It’s not a ‘minor irritant’ if you can’t get into the bank at the only time available to you to put money in. It’s a major irritant, especially if you are likely to go overdrawn etc. and incur the hefty charges banks like to charge. It’s actually really unfair to do this to people on a Saturday morning, at the only time they can get to the bank.

  11. Sunny — on 20th February, 2011 at 6:38 pm  

    earwicga – I’m the first one to start worrying about public opinion. In this case I highly doubt people being denied access on the only day they could is a substantive issue.

  12. earwicga — on 20th February, 2011 at 7:19 pm  

    It is a substantive issue to them Sunny, I think what you mean is that it doesn’t affect people in substantive numbers so it doesn’t matter. Is that right?

  13. Shamit — on 20th February, 2011 at 7:54 pm  

    I think James is peddling false bill of goods.

    According to Guardian themselves here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/tax-gap-blog/2009/feb/02/tax-gap-guardian

    and this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/may/03/1

    It was done to save taxes not only for the Guardian media group but also Apax Partners – a priavte equity firm – why create the offshore company in the first place?

    Barclays also pays taxes in the US and other jurisdictions where they do business – and therefore the rather simplistic analysis is flawed.

    But no one should deny that each and every business and individuals do their best to pay the least possible taxes under the law. And if someone should be challenged it should be the policy makers – in this case Balls and Miliband should be challenged along with HMRC because they were in government.

    And any attempt to say there is no political motive behind this movement is again flawed – funny no one questioned the taxation structures while Gordon Brown and his children were in Treasury.

    So why now? Not that is a bad thing but the credibility of UK Uncut as politically independent does not wash with most voters out there.

    But I may be wrong – may be they do have an impact beyond the choir.

  14. Shamit — on 20th February, 2011 at 7:55 pm  

    James is referring about the Auto trader business but the biggest tax avoidance by the Guardian was done when they bought EMap -

  15. Sunny — on 20th February, 2011 at 8:22 pm  

    If people are *that* upset about the Guardian avoiding tax – then join the tax avoidance protests! Help make it impossible to exploit such loopholes, rather than engaging in pathetic whataboutery.

    earwicga – yeah, that’s what I meant.

    Yogi Chan: No, they haven’t. And the reason is that corporates have a responsibility to their shareholders, not society. They have a duty to try and push the bottom line. And, who can blame them – they ARE playing by the rules.

    Sorry I forgot to respond to this earlier – but this really is a facile argument.

    First, because corporates do talk about ‘CSR’ – which means they do think they have some moral responsibility too.

    Secondly, not everyone is obliged to accept the Nike excuse that they owe nothing to campaigners, only shareholders. Campaigners are free to raise awareness of what Nike is doing – publicly embarrass them – and encourage consumers to boycott it (as I did for years).

    If Nike wants to then continue making the argument that it doesn’t care, that’s up to them. Why campaigners should listen to yourself or David Green, who seem to have little clue about campaign strategy, is not clear. I suspect they won’t.

  16. @ukcuts — on 20th February, 2011 at 8:23 pm  

    Hmrc is the wrong target I agree Sunny.

    Local gov is where the frustration should be vented. Tax avoidance shortfalls won’t plug the public finances to the level actually needed.

    Rather than going after this, we should be using efforts wisely against the cuts themselves & those carrying them out.

  17. Shamit — on 20th February, 2011 at 8:33 pm  

    “Local gov is where the frustration should be vented. ”

    Hang on the local councils, irrespective of their political control, are facing a combined funding shortfall of almost £6.5 Billion.

    Most of them are trying their best not to cut frontline services as much as possible however they are prioritising – now you can have a go at their priorities vs yours – in some cases there are legitimate arguments against certain cuts.

    But attacking local government for funding cuts is not the best way to go. Local government across the UK is the most efficient part of public sector by far – so attacking them for funding cuts is probably unfair.

    Should you keep libraries open or Sure start centres – for me its a no brainer – but arguing against all cuts when they simply do not have the resources to fulfill all their obligations is stupid.

    Why not go and protest in the treasury or no. 10? Local government is usually more or less responsive to local demands but sorry they simply do not have the money.

    @UKuncut – why local government and not the treasury or No. 10.

  18. Shamit — on 20th February, 2011 at 8:41 pm  

    “If people are *that* upset about the Guardian avoiding tax – then join the tax avoidance protests! Help make it impossible to exploit such loopholes, rather than engaging in pathetic whataboutery.”

    I am not upset that they tried to avoid taxes -I just find it funny that people in glass houses are throwing stones at others.

    Its the hypocricy that irks me – and I like the Miliband brothers try my best to pay as little tax as possible, within the law – so I am not taking a moral highground at all.
    ************************

    On Barclays though – what happens if Barclays says screw it – we don’t make much money in the retail sector in the UK anyway and so we close our branches and lay off people and publicly blame UK uncut and their ideological sponsors – that would lead to 70,000 job losses. And if that happens how would that help the UK public purse?

    Unintended consequences – its not whataboutery its asking serious questions

    And it is true the retail sector of Barclays makes very very little money for them.

    **************************************

  19. Shamit — on 20th February, 2011 at 8:47 pm  

    The government has a responsibility to ensure UK remains attractive to businesses and competitive – especially when a business is part of four banks that has pledged to lend £196 Billion in this coming fiscal year to UK SMEs.

    You want to talk about loopholes – lets do so – but lets look at the opportunity costs for decisions as well – otherwise it would be “pathetic whataboutery”.

  20. @ukcuts — on 20th February, 2011 at 10:51 pm  

    The reasons for local gov protests are simple.

    Councils are close to people who feel most protests only happen in cities. It’s also the councils making the cuts, who all represent political parties (ours is Tory lead safe seats)..

    Resistance at local level will filter up to gov, which uncut protests is failing to do.

  21. Arif — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:21 am  

    As I see it, if UKuncut tells HMRC to close loopholes because they will protest (and Barclays says not to, because they will then disinvest) then HMRC will listen to Barclays every time.

    If Barclays is losing money or its managers are spending energy dealing with bad publicity because of UK uncut protests, then they will have an incentive to close loopholes for everyone, so that they will not be at a relative disadvantage compared to their competitors by paying more tax.

    HMRC will be more willing to listen to that.

    I don’t agree with how Sunny expressed the argument, but I think I know where he is coming from: that political and cultural changes come about more effectively through shocks and unexpected alliances, than through furious rational strategies expected by your opponents.

  22. Rumbold — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:29 am  

    David Allen Green is an excellent campaigner, though I do agree with Sunny’s point that a campaign shouldn’t always target the right thing but the most media-friendly target.

    Take Barclays. Ukuncut, on Barclays, as Shamit points out, don’t seem to know what they are talking about, or the Guardian distorted their words, or they are being disingenuous. But it has an impact (the whole 1% tax comment was nonsense- comparing worldwide revenues and UK tax is like comparing apples and oranges).

  23. cjcjc — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:37 am  

    The campaign is misguided and economically illiterate.

    But the tactics are excellent and have given the issue a high profile.
    What would a blockade (or whatever) of HMRC achieve?

  24. MaidMarian — on 21st February, 2011 at 9:29 am  

    Rumbold – ‘David Allen Green is an excellent campaigner, though I do agree with Sunny’s point that a campaign shouldn’t always target the right thing but the most media-friendly target.’

    Not that I disagree with your point as such, but down that road lies a campaign that is more for the media’s entertainment than for the people. I think that this is the point that Allen might be trying to make with the remark about being on TV.

    More generally though, I’d make two remarks. UK Uncut are, I suspect, not as popular as they would like to think that they are. At the moment, the mood is very much for cuts. One can only imagine how sneery a conversation between Rumbold and a UK Uncut activist would be.

    Secondly I doubt very much that the government of China could care less about whether Gap and Nike are being pressured by Western consumers.

  25. MaidMarian — on 21st February, 2011 at 9:54 am  

    Shamit – to be clear, I’m not unsympathetic to your point. Indeed, however much Barclays has seen the benefit of wider government policy, it is entirely fair to point out that the taxpayer has not needed to take an equity stake in Barclays. But when you say, ‘and it is true the retail sector of Barclays makes very very little money for them.’ you are kind of taking the issue out of context.

    Part of the point being made is that banks SHOULD be making money in the retail sector rather than draining liquidity into the bonus pool and hosing money into ‘casino’ activities. The argument (reasonably) has always been that banks are too big to fail because a failure on the scale of Barclays would end confidence in the wider banking sector as a whole. Fair enough to a point.

    But what that does not say is that the banks have been caught in the idea that savings and labour have been placed second to rent-seeking (house prices) and speculation. Great if you are a boomer, not so good for the rest of us.

    The sense is that banks inflated the bubble and have been able to walk away from the fall-out. The case for the banks might be a bit stronger than it first looks, sure, but it really doesn’t feel like it.

  26. Rumbold — on 21st February, 2011 at 10:07 am  

    MaidMarian:

    Not that I disagree with your point as such, but down that road lies a campaign that is more for the media’s entertainment than for the people.

    Yes, but I suppose it could be argued that the end result would be the same (the media gets charmed so the people benefit).

  27. Rumbold — on 21st February, 2011 at 11:15 am  
  28. @ukcuts — on 21st February, 2011 at 4:07 pm  

    Ok let’s flip this a bit. Say the protests have an affect in tightening law that’s acceptable to the protesters and uk uncut claim victory.

    How long will these changes take to implement into law?
    Would they pass commons and lords votes to even become law?
    Do protesters accept that any historical claimed avoidance can’t then be chased after, only going forward.
    Do the protesters stop at announcement or implementation of new laws?
    What do they do then with the movement? Is it nul & void then ?

    You’d be looking at some 18 months min, and any changes in law if they did happen would be severely watered down under pressure from business leaders and party backers.
    In that time cuts will have truly bitten hard and the opportunity to fight the cuts will have long passed. Loads will have lost jobs and services they rely on.

    It’s a valid debate on laws being held at entirely the most inappropriate point in time.

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