Tom Sutcliffe: An awkward truth about tax avoiders

Social Studies: There's a perspective from which we're all fat cats, not just Sir Philip Green

Related Topics

It's an odd kind of insurrection that can number both the Daily Mail and members of the Government among its sympathisers – but something like that seems true of UK Uncut, the campaign to plug the tax gap created by legal forms of tax avoidance.

True, neither group are suggesting that we should all hit the high streets to glue our hands to the windows of offending chain stores – as some protesters did on Saturday in a series of demonstrations aimed at Topshop and its boss Sir Philip Green. But a leader in yesterday's Mail about the protests acknowledged that it could understand "why many hard-pressed Britons will share their sense of injustice".

Yesterday also saw the announcement by David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, of measures designed to seal off various loopholes and raise up to £2bn over the course of the current Parliament. And in both cases the relevant word was "fairness" – it being obvious even to a three-year-old that a world in which ordinary working people pay more tax (in percentage terms) than a billion-dollar corporation isn't really defensible. I have never thought of myself as a firebrand of direct action – more a tepid porridge-bowl of armchair indignation – but even I found myself wondering about joining in one of UK Uncut's protests. The cause is so clear-cut, the injustice so obvious. And, as it happens, I wouldn't even have to leave my armchair to do it. Last month, it was reported that Google is particularly efficient at tax avoidance, using various ways to pay an effective overseas tax rate of just 2.4 per cent. I can close down their local outlet with a click of a mouse.

But I also find myself wondering about the assumption that we securely know who the villains and the victims are in regards to tax avoidance – a thought prompted by the fact that both of the actions so far have concerned firms dependent on a global economy to make their products and their profit.

By coincidence on the same day that the protesters hit the high streets, Burma announced that it was to create its first Special Economic Zone, thus joining a global club of developing countries that already includes India, Pakistan, China and many others. Special Economic Zones, if you haven't heard of them, are effectively loopholes in geographical space – designated areas in which national tax regulations, labour regulations and workers' rights are suspended to the advantage of the international corporations who set up shop there. Outside the SEZ a small local business will pay one tax rate, inside it a very big international business will pay another – often a fraction of the first. And whatever those arrangements do for third-world economies, they are also central to what goods cost us on the high street.

Our expectation that we can upgrade our phone free at Vodafone every 12 or 18 months, our confidence that a visit to Topshop won't break the bank, can't be separated from tax arrangements that must look awfully like tax avoidance to those who are unable to take advantage of them. UK Uncut is absolutely right to highlight the unfairness of the tax system here – but it may be worth remembering that there's a perspective from which we're all fat cats, not just Sir Philip Green.

You can't have it both ways, Boris

I've been enjoying the responses of our World Cup sulkers to Fifa's decision to award the 2018 contest to Russia, despite all that assiduous English toadying. It has made some unexpected converts to the cause of WikiLeaks, for one thing, with David Mellor, among others, citing the disobliging description of Russia as a mafia state as if it had come from the highest international authority.

But the choicest tantrum came from Boris Johnson – happy (in advance of the decision) to commiserate with Fifa over the "evils" of the British media but after it to use one branch of it to make his rage and disappointment known. "I was so furious at the lies and graft," he told the press. So furious, in fact, that he reportedly decided to rescind his own contribution to it – the promise to Fifa chiefs that they would get free rooms at the Dorchester for the 2012 Olympics. What was this offer if it wasn't a bribe – an inducement intended to curry favour with someone in a position of power?

Not a big enough bribe, clearly – and one can understand how annoying it must be to feel that one has been outbid. But it surely undermines the attempt to present the English bid as a victim of its own probity. The only dignified time to excoriate the "corruption" of a selection process is before it takes place, not just after it's become clear that your sweeteners didn't work.

That's an awful lot of notes to carry off

When Frank Sinatra was accused of ferrying $2m in a briefcase into Cuba for the Mob, his defence was simple. "If you show me how to get $2m into a briefcase I'll give you $2m." Cash is unwieldy ... which raises the question of exactly how Eric Cantona is going to keep his promise to empty his bank account as part of his "bloodless revolution" against capitalism. Has he made advance arrangements with his bank to have large supplies of 500 euro notes available? And will he need a suitcase, a wheelbarrow or a small van to drive his assets away?

More to the point, where is he going to take them all? It might not only be the French media who will be interested.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style