4 Dec 2010

Tax protests hit Topshop, BHS, Vodafone on busy shopping day

Chief Correspondent

High street stores across Britain were forced to shut on a major shopping day as protesters accused bosses of tax avoidance. Alex Thomson says the campaign behind the action is growing.

What began as a meeting of a commited few in a pub in north London is now a Twitter movement of impressive capability. So it was that today UK Uncut was able to set up at least 22 protests at Topshops and Vodafone stores across the UK. No mean achievement for a group which did not exist a couple of months ago.

They even have had the compliment of the police sending along plain clothes officers to spy on them, after police chiefs said they would not send plainclothes police along to spy on them. Now that’s the kind of publicity you just can’t buy.

Protesters say this is legal and right in law but wrong in every other conceivable way and the government must start changing such laws.

Several hundred gathered outside Topshop in Oxford Street in London, Sir Philip Green‘s paramount Topshop store. Their beef? That Green, they claim, does not own vaste swathes of our high streets from Topshop and Topman through to BHS via Dotty P.

In fact his wife “owns” them. And that they say is the problem. Because Sir P paid said wife over a billion pounds in one of the biggest-ever divvy payouts and because the wife “owns” the Arcadia empire in law and lives in Monaco where she pays no income tax – the Greens avoided several hundred million pounds in income tax.

Protesters say this is legal and right in law – but wrong in every other conceivable way and the government must start changing such laws and clamping down generally on places like the British Virgin and Cayman Islands tax havens. Every now and then the coalition makes little peeping noises about doing such things, barely audible and as yet, barely credible. To date nothing dramatic has been done and what Sir Philip did once with the wife, he could do again.

Topshop protests: demonstrators glue their hands to the window in Brighton. (Credit: Cathy Jones)

(Pictured: Demonstrators glue their hands to the window at Topshop in Brighton. Photo:Cathy Jones)

Which is why a few hundred protesters were out to shut down Topshop in the pre-Christmans rush today and they did so. Remarkably easily it has to be said. The police effectively kettling Topshop’s burly security people in, and keeping protesters and shoppers out. It seemed to me a neatly ironic twist on recent policing actions of protests.

Many were not happy about that – shoppers that is. They did not give a damn about any of this. They wanted to shop and shop and shop and they were being prevented from doing so. There were some sharp exchanges on the pavement about this, as you can imagine.
The demo then moved off west, across Oxford Circus. By now the police had got their helicopter up. They are spending some money on that chopper in this autumn and winter of growing discontent, to be sure.

Read more – Topshop protests over Sir Philip Green’s taxes

They were headed to BHS just a hundred yards to the west. Up went the chants again, though this is a much bigger shop to try to shut down and only a couple of entrances were sealed by police and demonstrators.

As a group there were students, pensioners, civil servants (not keen to be interviewed but worried about their jobs) and assorted public sector workers who were happy to talk on camera and were very fed up about their own employment prospects longterm and angry about the super rich avoiding tax.

A more eloquent and informed group of demonstrators would be hard to come across and one is struck by the wide appeal across ages and incomes, of what they had to say.

Absolute silence from retail and industry groups who seem to think that because this protest was directed at one individual it did not concern them very much. I wonder how far that get-out argument can go as the large corporations come into the sights of various protests groups as we go through an increasingly discontented winter.