On this Thursday, 2 May, the High Court will hear a case being brought by the campaign group UK Uncut against HMRC. UK Uncut will argue that HMRC entered into an unlawful “sweetheart deal” with one of the wealthiest global banks, Goldman Sachs and allowed them to pay £20 million less than they should legally have paid.
The £20 million is alleged to represent interest which had built up as a result of Goldmans engaging in aggressive tax avoidance relating to bankers’ bonuses by setting up an elaborate scheme to channel money through the Virgin Islands.
Goldmans is notorious for its aggressive approach to business, which has earned it the name, the Vampire Squid – because it is said to “wrap (itself) around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.
UK Uncut will argue that the sweetheart deal was made by the then top tax man Dave Hartnett and he acted unlawfully as his actions were in direct contradiction with HMRC’s statutory duty to collect taxes and to do so properly, fairly and equally.
The members of UK Uncut are not after any of the £20 million for themselves, of course. They have a superior moral code to Goldmans - and most others in public life. They are simply being public spirited. They want the £20 million to be paid by Goldmans to HMRC and, most importantly, they want to stop similar sweetheart deals with wealthy corporations and individuals taking place in the future.
With economic growth negligible, taxing and spending is these days essentially zero sum. £20 million less collected is £20 million less for schools, hospitals, soldiers, deficit reduction or whatever the priority may be.
With the honourable exceptions of Private Eye, which broke the original Goldman Sachs story, the Guardian and the Independent, the press usually ignore UK Uncut or paints them as left wing extremists. This is hardly surprising as most of the press is owned by billionaires who are themselves suspected of tax dodging on a large scale.
Sadly, even the Radio 4 flagship Today program – which might be expected to be more concerned with the objective truth than the press - insisted on smearing UK Uncut as “anti-capitalist” until there were persistent complaints. A moment’s thought reveals that there is nothing remotely “anti-capitalist” in tackling tax dodging.
UK Uncut have already been directly responsible for Starbucks paying £20 million “voluntarily” to HMRC and indirectly they are probably responsible for a great deal more money being paid by rich tax dodgers to the benefit of the rest of society. If the British public – including Middle England and the readers of the Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclays and Desmond press – were told the truth about UK Uncut they would heartily approve.
In time, I think, UK Uncut will be seen as pioneers in the cause of social justice, successors to the likes of the Chartists and the Suffragettes. The wealthy tax cheats, their helpers and their apologists will, I expect, come to be generally recognised as the selfish, anti-social reactionaries some already see them as today.