Tag Archives: Taxpayers’ Alliance

the 99% of Britain: it’s time to turn on, tune in and stand up!

Populist movements are gathering around the world. People from different generations, ethnicities, and multifarious backgrounds taking to the streets and public spaces to express collective outrage at what is happening to them. Thus the rumour of a ‘global revolution’ is spreading. So these are exciting times, though also perilous times. Revolutions have a habit of being derailed and going bad; that’s history. But I admire the optimism, the enthusiasm, and the courage of all those now actively resisting the increasingly apparent slide into outright economic and social breakdown.

A week last Saturday [Oct 15th] signified the first day of truly international dissent. 15-O, which had been called for by los indignados, was marked not only by huge protests in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), as well as Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym so freely attached in the press), but by many in other European countries, as well as throughout the United States, and as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, parts of South America and Africa. Click here to read a list of the 15-O “occupy” protests around the world.

Media attention inevitably focused on the rioting mobs in Italy, where the protests had been infiltrated by a substantial element of anarchist hooligans, rather than on the relatively peaceful protests elsewhere; in some cases remaining non-violent in the face of rather extreme police provocation. And the widespread police tactic known as ‘kettling’ is inherently provocative; a kettle, of course, being an object that has a singular purpose of bringing a substance to boiling point, which is precisely what confining any crowd of people in a tight area is likely to do to them. But as Democracy Now! reported, the New York police went further still, sending mounted officers into already ‘kettled’ crowds. That no-one was actually trampled to death during this incident was simply due to the self-restraint of the crowd and pure good fortune:

Mass strikes, marches and demonstrations can, of course, only take any movement so far. For real victories, a more cutting political edge is required; clear demands for a realistic and realisable alternative. Only then can any movement either steer the policies of established parties, or else, and given that almost all current political parties seem to be sold-out to identical interests, begin to build new political parties that offer genuine and viable change for the better. The simple fact is that to change the course of a country, let alone the whole world, means sooner or later picking up the reins of power. You have to get your hands dirty in the end.

But when I come to Britain, I am puzzled. My home city of Sheffield, the once proud ‘Steel City’, its name engraved on cutlery throughout the world, was also renowned for being a hot-bed of ‘Old Labour’ socialism, and yet after more than a year of deeply unpopular government ‘austerity measures’, there have been just two significant protests. One when the Lib-Dem Spring conference showed up in town, and the other, a trade union march and rally against the cuts. When the Jarrow March came through the city a fortnight ago, it was welcomed by less than a hundred people. We were there to applaud them:

The Jarrow March in Sheffield

Whilst on 15-O there was no protest at all in Sheffield, and Sheffield was far from alone – did you hear of any action that took place in Birmingham, or Newcastle, or even Liverpool?

Last Wednesday [Oct 19th], I attended a public meeting with a friend. It had been organised by Britain’s largest civil service trades-union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and was also supported by the Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance. We were two newcomers of the around thirty people who turned up; the great majority being experienced and committed activists, and about a half of those attending being on first name terms with one another.

At the meeting, all opinions were welcomed and respectfully listened to, and overall the meeting was frank and informative. Having said this, however, and after more than two hours of discussion, the only decision made was that we needed another meeting…

But a meeting about what exactly? That was what my friend and I couldn’t actually fathom. Although there was a clue in the title of the leaflet promoting the event. WELFARE, it read in large friendly letters, and beneath: “a campaigning and organising meeting for workers and unemployed people”. But campaigning and organising to what precise ends? A simple enough question, and one raised during the meeting, with someone respectfully asking what other speakers precisely meant by saying “we” all the time. It was a question that went all but unheard by most in the room.

And why was the meeting only called “for workers and unemployed people”? Workers and unemployed people as opposed to who exactly?

There is a sense that the anti-cuts movement in Britain is about to repeat the mistakes of 1980s all over again. The traps are set, the population having been so effectively divided against itself thanks to the policies of Thatcher and Blair. For if opposition to the ‘austerity’ programme is to be successful, then it needs to be engaging with more than just the ‘Old Labour’ old guard; we really need to find support within the other sections of the 99%.

So what exactly am I saying here? That in Britain, the left is too wrapped up in itself. That it talks to itself all the time, sometimes with good intention, other times wistfully reminiscing, and still with a significant minority fixated on the Marxist dialectic. On this occasion the only Marxist to speak up, explained very eloquently how the welfare system was just another symptom of the sickness of Capitalism, which was perhaps not the most helpful contribution under the circumstances. But, in any case, what leads some on the left to suppose that the masses of unemployed and workers are about to be won over by oblique and antique instructions laid down in Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto? Writings from the nineteenth century that most people never read and never will. I increasingly fail to understand why the left feels this need for philosophic validation to justify or promote their own visions of social justice. As Orwell pointed out, the notion that society should be fairer is really just a matter of commonsense. And Marx sort of said the same, albeit in a more roundabout and convoluted fashion, which is presumably why so many academics love him so much.

Meanwhile, many of the ‘Old Conservative’ right are also disaffected, but those of the disaffected right form into different groups like UKIP and talk to themselves about how the country is being sold down the river by Eurocrats. In this they are correct, the Eurocrats being another big part of our problem. Membership of the EU is costing the nation £45 million each and every day, and for what?

Others on the right try to make their opinions heard via groups like The Taxpayers’ Alliance, complaining about the increasing rates of personal taxation and how their standard of living is dropping. And in this they are correct too, but instead of seeing that their money is being stolen by the super-rich, they wrongly point the finger of blame downwards to those scraping a living at the bottom of the social heap; the irony being that they are suckered into the same phoney class war as many on the left.

And here, we ought not to forget the Greens, who talk to themselves about saving the planet. And good for them, because it’s only the insane who willingly destroy their own world. But do they really think they can halt the devastation by tinkering with a corporate system as corrupt as ours? Right now by far the most important thing being to reverse the escalating economic crisis before our society breaks down entirely (as appears to be happening in Greece). This should be the immediate goal for all of the disaffected and since this requires a mass resistance to the social and economic measures being imposed, the disaffected on all sides must urgently establish some common ground. For once there is much to agree about.

I might have said some of this at the meeting last week. It might even have been politely applauded, as many of the contributions were. Although I never quite understood exactly what we were meant to be talking about, and so I kept my thoughts to myself. I suppose what I was really burning to say was something like this: you cannot stop the cuts to welfare until you take on the hedge funds and the bankers. But I also wanted to say please, please, please look beyond the local issues – the fine details – we need to understand the bigger picture to get a proper perspective on what’s going on right now.

And we need to learn from the many ‘occupy’ movements, which though to some extent crossing the traditional party political allegiances are stuck in another way. They have trapped themselves in a strait-jacket of the “consensus model”, which means, at best, wasting precious hours deliberating over details of where to go and what to eat, and at worst, letting the voice of a few dissenters call the tune. The simple and expedient truth being that every democratic movement needs to accept some kind of majority rules and decision-making. That said, the gathering thousands who are now camping out in Wall Street and elsewhere have set their sights on the real enemy; and in this respect, at least, the protests abroad are well ahead of ours in Britain.

On 15-O, there were indeed some brave souls who made the decision to pitch camp in London, and good luck to them, though camping is perhaps an unlikely method for gathering popular support in Britain, especially now that it’s almost November. Quite frankly, I think we may need a somewhat different strategy to one adopted during a Mediterranean Spring, which in any case hasn’t as yet forced any significant concessions from their own government’s brutal austerity programmes. The important thing is not to automatically copy the action of others, but that in some way we begin taking a more visible and collective stand. We need people speaking up and joining in.

Here’s a great example from Real Democracy Now Berlin/GR, with protesters directly confronting and challenging President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet:

This moment in history is an extraordinary one. A dire time that is also an opportunity for the most extraordinary transformation of our society since the war. I believe that such a transformation is coming whether we choose it or not. If we do nothing then our nation will undoubtedly be torn apart, sold off and slowly taken over by a small criminal syndicate – the tiny banking and corporate elite who caused this economic crisis and now sneer over us as masters might their slaves – a ruling elite that probably doesn’t even amount 1%.

I’d wanted to say some of this at the meeting. How we shouldn’t only be talking about jobs and welfare, as vitally important as such issues are, because the situation we face is much worse than most can yet imagine. The rescue of our nations requiring nothing less than a sweeping overhaul of our venal and oppressive political and economic systems. An end to globalised systems in which usefulness is all that counts, and after that we can all go to hell. We, the 99%, need acknowledge our common grievances, to pool our dissent, to think bigger, and we need to act urgently… so how about another meeting next week, anyone?

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sheep in wolf’s clothing

Yesterday night I happened to come across an organisation I’d not heard about before. Called UK Uncut, they are one of many new protest groups that have recently taken a stand against the government cuts. Indeed, they are one of the groups trying to organise direct action on the streets of London in and around today’s big march.

According to their own website, UKU began as a single sit-down protest at a flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street. But their method of protest, of taking direct action against tax-dodging corporations, was quickly to go viral. By means of Facebook and Twitter, this campaign has since spread far and wide across the country – and it is very likely to grab some news attention later today, presuming that some of their many “occupation” plans succeed in London.

If you click on the “About” section of their website you will find a statement of their principles:

“We start with some simple points of agreement. The brutal cuts to services about to be inflicted by the current Government are unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. The coalition are particularly fond of two obscene catchphrases: ‘There is no alternative’ and ‘We’re all in this together.’ Both slogans are empty and untrue. The cuts will dismantle the welfare state, send inequality sky-rocketing and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. A cabinet of millionaires have decided that libraries, healthcare, education funding, voluntary services, sports, the environment, the disabled, the poor and the elderly must pay the price for the recklessness of the rich.

“Austerity-economics is the policy of the powerful. It cannot be stopped by asking nicely. We cannot wait until the next election. If we want to win the fight against these cuts (and we can win) then we must make it impossible to ignore our arguments and impossible to resist our demands. This means building a powerful grassroots mass movement, able to resist the Government cuts at every turn.
UK Uncut hopes to play a small part in this movement. In only a few months, from a single action in London, UK Uncut has spread to up to fifty-five towns and cities. Everyone from pensioners to teenagers, veterans to newbies have already joined our actions in towns from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. We have proved that there is anger at these cuts, that the idea of mass apathy is a myth and that people are willing to do more than just join a Facebook group to stand up and defend what they believe in.
Even if you have never been on a protest before, please join us. UK Uncut makes it easy to either join or organise an inspiring, effective protest wherever you are. Vodafone’s own slogan is ‘Power to You.’ It couldn’t be more appropriate.
Now is the time to get angry, to get organised and to build a resistance to austerity.
See you on the high streets.”

So can we disable the current government plans through such a series of sneak attacks? Well, UK Uncut seems to think it will help and one of the tabs brings up a schedule of actions past and pending.

At today’s march they are planning to occupy for the alternative:

“From 2pm flash mobs, bail-ins and occupations will shut down the dozens of banks and tax dodgers along the length of Europe’s biggest shopping street.

And at 3.30pm, after the dispersed actions, there will be a massive final convergence, ready for a spectacular mass occupation of a secret target.”

Their campaign promotion continues: “March 26th is not the end of the battle against the cuts. It is the beginning. Join us on Oxford Street and let’s help kick things off in style.”

Now that’s fighting talk if ever I heard it. And the logo is a good one. In the style of a signpost with a pair of scissors crossed through by a red band, making very clear the demand for no cuts. I’d wager that we’re likely to see a lot more of that logo in the next year or so.

Moving on, I was next drawn by the links at the bottom of the “About” page. And one of these took me to the website of openDemocracy. Having opened the attached mission statement, I followed another link to “our generous supporters” – well, it’s often a good idea to take a look just in case…

“The development of openDemocracy has been funded by the generosity of more than twenty trusts, foundations and individuals since 2001.
openDemocracy’s main source of funding has been through the Open Trust, a registered UK charity (number 1086404). The Trust has no direct stake in openDemocracy but conducts regular oversight to be sure that it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.1

So what of these other trusts, foundations and individuals? Well, let’s begin with its “past supporters”. We have the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Then there is something called New World Foundation. Another click of the mouse revealing that NWF’s own partners include, the Ford Foundation and Open Society. Then we have the more recent supporters of openDemocracy. There is the Ford Foundation again in 2008. And since 2009, we have The Open Society Institute. And so the chase continued. I clicked again on the link and came to Open Society Foundations. Ever heard of them? Nope? Me neither. Here is what you find if you click on “About”:

“The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve this mission, the Foundations seek to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. On a local level, the Open Society Foundations implement a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, we build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. The Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.”

Well that sounds good. So who could be behind such a progressive venture? Let’s see… “George Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations. He is also the chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.” Would that be the George Soros? What really — again! So when UK Uncut posted their link to openDemocracy did they actually bother to consider who might actually be paying the piper?

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, we have the Tax Payers’ Alliance. TPA is a pressure group that actually favours the government cuts, and is calling for swifter “austerity measures”. So taking the same approach, is it possible to find out who is funding this supposedly grassroots movement, with its appeal to Middle England Conservatives? Well, here again I hit a sticking point, with no information available from their own website regarding sponsorship and campaign donations. Indeed, there is now yet another organisation called “The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance” which challenges the transparency of TPA:

“Let’s look at the facts. It’s simply not true that all political organisations are secretive about their funding. Most declare their income and expenditure, and some give a break-down of income sources, including donors. The TPA does neither. It publishes abbreviated accounts which means income and expenditure are withheld. The last time it published full accounts was in 2006, when it recorded an income of £130,000. But the current organisation has ten full-time staff across two offices, which suggests either its income has jumped substantially or it is loaded with debt.”

The above extract was taken from an article on The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance.

As with UKU, it is hard to know precisely who is behind the TPA, aside from establishing its evidently close ties to the Conservative Party.2

According to Sourcewatch “It is affiliated with the World Taxpayers Association. Its initial funding came from the three directors and “generous people we know”.

Sourcewatch also shines a light on other groups the TPA has rubbed shoulders with. These include the right-wing think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs, which has close association with the odious neo-conservative Heritage Foundation. TPA held a joint seminar with the IEA in February 2004, with guest speaker Daniel J. Michell of the Heritage Foundation. According to Sourcewatch, the IEA is in turn funded by the Earhart Foundation, which depends on donations from, amongst others, the Rockefeller Brothers Trust, and a number of major corporations including Exxon and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Oh, what a tangled web of think tanks, charities and foundations we now have. Delving into pressure groups on the left and the right is like peeling back the layers of an onion. But it doesn’t actually take much peeling to reveal the extent of the current astroturfing – one click from the UK Uncut website we find Soros and the Rockefeller Foundations. One step from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and we find related foundations. So when it comes to pressure groups we ought to be careful, alert to the ever-present danger that we might all too easily end up as sheep in wolf’s clothing.

1 And so what of Open Trust? This is the charity that oversees openDemocracy, ensuring that “it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.” Well, that’s where the trail finally ran out. I found no links from Google for an Open Trust website and so checked on the Charities Commission website instead.

The activities of Open Trust listed by Charity Commission are as follows:

“THE OBJECT OF THE TRUST IS THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, IN THE SOCIAL, ENVIROMENTAL [sic], POLITICAL AND BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, ECONOMICS, LAW, THE ARTS AND MEDIA COMMUNICATION AND OTHER RECOGNISED SCHOLARLY SUBJECTS.”

Registered 30th April 2001. Open Trust have no website registered, but there is an email address and a postal address that traces to a law firm.

So is that normal? For a charity to have the same address as a solicitors – I’m confused now!

2 “[But] a Guardian investigation has established that a large part of its funds come from wealthy donors, many of whom are prominent supporters of the Conservative party. Sixty per cent of donations come from individuals or groups giving more than £5,000. The Midlands Industrial Council, which has donated £1.5m to the Conservatives since 2003, said it has given around £80,000 on behalf of 32 owners of private companies. Tony Gallagher, owner of Gallagher UK, a property company that gave the Conservatives £250,000 in 2007, is a member of the MIC, as is Christopher Kelly who owns the international haulage firm Keltruck, and Robert Edmiston who owns IM Group, a large car importer.” From Guardian article “Who is behind the Taxpayers’ Alliance?” by Robert Booth, Friday 9th October 2009. Click here for full article.

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