There is nothing the burd likes better than a good protest or a march. You name it, I’ve probably marched for it. Or agin it, as the case may be. The burdz chicks were weaned on the art of the protest and both have the ignominy of appearing on Newsnight as babes in arms.
So I was tempted to don the snow boots and head for Top Shop on Princes Street in Edinburgh yesterday. The thrill of some agitprop definitely appealed. But then I thought about it, and I wish others had too. For all my worst fears – and prejudices – about yesterday’s shop protests were fulfilled.
There is something particularly unedifying about witnessing the largely haves protest on behalf of the have nots in a way that completely inconveniences those they are pretending to be trying to protect. Let me rewind and explain my reluctance to get involved.
The point was essentially sound – to draw attention to the fact that the UK is brimful of tax avoiders like Sir Philip Green, who owns and runs Top Shop, BHS, Dorothy Perkins etc. If he paid his fair share of income tax, the UK finances would not be in deficit and the cuts to public spending would not be required on this scale.
The burd agrees. I find it utterly abhorrent that disabled people and low paid parents in particular are facing the brunt of forthcoming measures and in the meantime, London will continue to offer tax haven status to Russian oligarchs and to allow massively wealthy individuals like Sir Philip and his wife to legitimately avoid paying their fair share of tax. So far, so vomit inducing, so agreeable.
But what purpose would the protests serve? Apparently to enlighten the masses of Green’s said tax avoidance. By waving placards outside Top Shop? On the first shopping Saturday before Christmas, thereby annoying shoppers and low paid shop staff? That will get them on your side. Not.
In any event, the choice of store at which to protest speaks volumes. Top Shop has a certain kitsch value with the middle classes. Gosh even Kate Moss designs for them. Everyone likes to claim it as their favourite everyday fashion store. But actually its core market is fairly well off under 25s, few of whom vote, many don’t pay tax. Those young people being hit hardest by job losses tend to shop in less expensive stores and the prospect of outrageous tuition fees is not one they will have to contend with. In any event, why would under 25s be anyone’s target audience for a tax protest?
If the protesters had really wanted to get their point across, they would have chosen BHS as first stop. Favoured by pensioners and low income families, this surely should have been the audience for the message. Though I’m not sure Polly Toynbee would have been quite so keen to be photographed being removed bodily from a BHS…
Whatever the venue, there was always a risk of dividing rather than unifying. The point of any protest movement is to grow and this is an issue around which everyone can coalesce, so everything possible should be done to bring people on board. A mass movement, incorporating more than the usual suspects, would terrify the ConDems and might cause them to act. Will yesterday’s antics have recruited a single Christmas shopper or weekend shop girl?
But okay the protests happened. A few shoppers got the message and thanks to the media, many more around the country heard it too. Now what?
What’s the next stage in the campaign? Let’s suppose all those folk in front of their TVs are fired up. They agree with the protesters. They want to get involved. How do they do that?
A quick trawl of the internet suggests it’s hard to find who is in charge (not necessarily a bad thing), or even a website that isn’t just a resource or reporting portal. UK uncut is the only one to offer a campaign and actions. But its only offering is street protests and some downloadable leaflets (some of which are very good). Just supposing Mrs Outraged of Ayr successfully organises and stages her own street protest against Green’s outlets – what does she do next? If the goal is to make the likes of Green pay his fair share of tax, how do we succeed in making that happen?
Taking to the streets is only one option and indeed, one step. If the protest against the cuts is to capture the wider public’s imagination it needs to offer alternative actions. Here’s one: since hearing of the Greens’ despicable tax avoidance, the burd has not spent a single penny in any of his stores. An economic boycott might be something that a wider coalition of folk could feel comfortable engaging in. If it gained widespread support, it would bite eventually, hurting Green and his friends in government.
And unless and until the ConDems get the message, these protests with their muddled purpose and point will only ever generate heat and not light.