The Vodaphone shop in Oxford Street, London, was closed down this week when over a hundred demonstrators turned up on the doorstep. They were unhappy that Vodaphone has not been paying taxes in the UK. What on earth had been going on?
Johann Hari, writing in the Independent has the answer, "Vodafone has been refusing to pay billions of pounds of taxes to the British people that are outstanding. The company – which has doubled its profits during this recession – engaged in all kinds of accounting twists and turns, but it was eventually ruled this refusal breached anti-tax avoidance rules. They looked set to pay a sum Private Eye calculates to be more than £6bn."
"Then, suddenly, the exchequer – run by George Osborne – cancelled almost all of the outstanding tax bill, in a move a senior figure in Revenues and Customs says is “an unbelievable cave-in.” A few days after the decision, Osborne was promoting Vodafone on a tax-payer funded trip to India. He then appointed Andy Halford, the finance director of Vodafone, to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates, apparently because he thinks this is a model of how the Tories think it should be done."
"By contrast, the Indian government chose to pursue Vodafone through the courts for the billions in tax they have failed to pay there. Yes, the British state is less functional than the Indian state when it comes to collecting revenues from the wealthy. This is not an isolated incident. Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, calculates that UK corporations fail to pay a further £12bn a year in taxes they legally owe, while the rich avoid or evade up to £120bn."
Although personally not a fan of Twitter, it is a good tool to mobilise like-minded people. This is what happened to Vodaphone. It also exposed the use of 'super injunctions' imposed on the BBC and The Guardian and was instrumental in getting the injunctions overturned. Protest can seem pointless yet a study of the significant social changes in our recent history show just how effective it can be. Votes for Women, Gay Rights, Anti-Racism and even anti-war movements. The latter may not appear to be too effective yet the biographies of Presidents Nixon and Johnson reveal how they were influenced by the anti-Vietnam protests.
Johann Hari summed it up at the end of his article. "You don’t know what the amazing ripple-effect of your protest will be – but wouldn’t Britain be a better place if it replaced the ripple of impotent anger so many of us are feeling? Yes, you can sit back and let yourself be ripped off by the bankers and the corporations and their political lackeys if you want. But it’s an indulgent fiction to believe that is all you can do. You can act in your own self-defence. As Margaret Mead, the great democratic campaigner, said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”