UK Uncut triumph over the Vodafone website… but lose my support

Earlier today UK Uncut posted their own updates on several blogs belonging to Vodafone. Here’s there press release. I’ve posted screenshots of their twitter stream and their screenshots of the affected websites below.

Haha preparing this e-mischief is fun. We're about 30 minutes away. Stay tuned!We're about to do a little Internet takeover. 12.00. Pass it on.We just hijacked dozens of blogs on Vodafone's flagship CSR site to highlight cuts to charity fundingThe passwords were leaked to us by a lovely World of Difference 'winner' who is angry about Vodafone's £6bn tax dodge

Vodafone blog screenshotVodafone blog screenshot 2

The text of the hijacked website read:

For the last five months, people all over the country have occupied Vodafone’s high street stores in outrage at the company’s £6bn tax dodge.

Today, UK Uncut have occupied this website.

We demand that the government force Vodafone to pay the £6bn in tax it owes the public, in order to prevent the cuts to charities and essential public services.

World of Difference is Vodafone’s flagship Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, designed to project the image of a company that cares about the society it is part of. But Vodafone’s charitable giving pales into insignificance next to their massive tax dodge.

Charities across the country are having funding slashed by up to £5bn by a government that claims there is no alternative the cuts. But Vodafone’s unpaid tax bill on its own could cover every single cut to every single charity.

The cuts are not fair, and there are alternatives, like making corporate tax dodgers pay. Until the government stops these cuts, people will continue to fight.

See you on the high streets.

 

I personally think that this may constitute unauthorised access to a computer system and modification of data. Both are illegal under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. If true, this could earn up to five years in prison.

 

Relevant parts of the Computer Misuse Act

Section 1

A person is guilty of an offence under this section if:

  • he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer
  • the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and
  • he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

Section 3

A person is guilty of an offence under this section if:

  • he does any act which causes an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer; and
  • at the time when he does the act he has the requisite intent and the requisite knowledge.

Although the password was given to the activists by the authorised user, it was not authorised by the owners of the blog, Vodafone. I personally am not happy with this step. I do not believe that it was necessary to introduce activities that may be a criminal offence at this stage since public opinion appears to be in favour of the UK Uncut message.

Banks, tax, and offsetting losses

The Telegraph today is reporting that Lloyds will not pay corporation tax until profits hit £15bn. This has been met with outrage and taken as a further sign of injustice in favour of the banks. I must disagree. While I think the banks should be held responsible for their actions which crashed the economy, in this case they are not even using loopholes, simply doing what they are meant to do.

So what are the banks actually doing to avoid so much tax? They are offsetting their losses against future profit. Here’s how it works.

Imagine a small business that made a £10,000 profit last year. The tax on profits for a small business is 20% so they will pay £2,000 in tax.

The following year, the recession hits them and so they make a loss of ten thousand pounds. Unfortunately tax doesn’t work in reverse and they don’t get two thousand back from the taxman.

That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Well to balance things up, the rules allow a company to take that ten thousand loss and offset it against profits over the next five years until it is used up.

So, in the 3rd year of our example business, they return to profit and make £5,000. They should be liable to pay £1,000 in tax on that profit. Instead, they offset it against the £10,000 loss and pay no tax. The remaining £5,000 of the loss is carried forward for future years.

Finally, in the fourth year, our business makes £10,000 profit again. The have £5,000 of their loss remaining, and so they pay no tax on the first half of their profits, and they pay the full 20% on the second half of their profits. Their tax for that year is £1,000 instead of £2,000.

Enough about small business, what about the banks?

Lloyds and the other banks are applying exactly the same rules about losses and tax as smaller businesses do. We are outraged because of all the other loopholes that the banks use such as overseas subsidiaries and tax havens, and because we have paid money in to these banks in the form of bailouts to the tune of at least £850bn. ($2.4tn if you believe the BBC, but according to this government document no one really knows.) and yet we are not getting tax in return, and because the banks caused so many of our economic problems in the first place. The public are right to be outraged over banks paying minimal tax on their profits, but in this case the anger has been directed at the wrong thing. (For the record, I am in favour of prosecuting the banks for their actions, and have never been in favour of bailing out the banks. Let them fail.)

That is not to say that the ability to offset loss against future tax is entirely fair though. What if, for example, BP attempted to offset their losses resulting from oil spills against their UK tax? Given the environmental damage that they have inflicted and the strong likelihood that wilful negligence contributed to the failure of their equipment and structure, I am firmly of the opinion that it would not be right for them to offset. There is a good case for restricting the offsetting of losses incurred overseas too. Perhaps we should consider preventing the offsetting of losses incurred as a result of negligence or deliberate policy.

One last question to leave you with. RBS has just paid out £950m in bonuses despite incurring losses of £1.1bn. Should they be allowed to offset that £1.1bn loss against tax next year?

Thanks to Frances Coppola for the discussion which prompted this blog post, and to @Puffles2010 and @ntlk for help in finding the numbers.

UK Uncut doing it right…Annoying Glenn Beck

When Glenn Beck is ranting about you, you know you’re doing something right. It’s almost as good as being hated by the Daily Mail. Keep up the good work, UK Uncut, US Uncut and Canada Uncut. The more right-wing nutters we annoy, the better.

Yes, Glenn, Get informed. The Uncut message is simple and compelling, and you should be afraid of it.

While I was checking this story I had to search for Glenn Beck on Google (A horrible task, but someone’s gotta do it.) and I found an article in the Christian Post about Beck meeting Billy Graham. Here’s a revealing quote:

In last year’s Gallop poll, Beck tied with Billy Graham for the top ten “most admired man.” Nonetheless, some evangelicals remain wary of Beck’s Mormon faith and motives.

…..

On his radio show last March, Beck outraged liberal Christians by telling people to leave churches promoting “social justice,” arguing that it was “the rallying cry on both the communist…and…fascist front.”

In response, Sojourner president Jim Wallis demanded Christians to boycott Beck’s TV and radio programs. Afterwards, Beck called Wallis “an apologist communist for atrocities in Cambodia,” in apparent retaliation.

“Most admired man” – really? And calling social justice “communist” and “fascist” too? Pretty revealing when you put those labels on caring for people. Americans seriously need to sort this out if they want to restore any kind of reputation else where.

UK Uncut has chosen its targets well

David Allen Green (Who I otherwise respect greatly) has written a quick note on his blog at New Statesman to say that UK Uncut are protesting against the wrong targets. He says “The UKUncut protesters should campaign for more funding for HMRC and improved tax legislation. If they should be protesting anywhere on a miserable day like today, it should be outside the Treasury.”

He is wrong, and here is why. Shouting at MPs achieves nothing. David Cameron recently said “It will make me unpopular. I recognise that. It’s my duty.” I don’t know what motivates our MPs (Well I have some idea, but that’s for another day) but one thing we know is that they never change their minds.

Making life hard for big business, on the other hand, makes things happen. Shutting down Vodafone shops and embarrassing Barclays makes things happen. HMRC is briefing its staff on UK Uncut. Boots, Vodafone, Barclays and other businesses have been forced to respond to negative press coverage with hasty press releases. Protesting in high street shops has made more happen than tens of thousands gathering in parliament square has.

Green argued that UK Uncut needs to campaign for better tax legislation and policy. They are campaigning for precisely that! You could argue that they are protesting indirectly by going up against business, but given that those businesses all have very large amount of influence over our tax policies, I say it’s a direct protest.

Green also suggested that protesters should target Labour since they got us in to this situation where companies can avoid so much tax. Well yes, we know Labour were just as bad as the Conservatives, if not worse, but they aren’t in power right now, are they.

Barclays claim they comply with spirit of tax law

This statement from Barclays was read out on BBC news at 11:23am

“We comply with taxation laws in the UK and in all the countries where we do business – both in the spirit and the letter. In 2010 the group paid over £2.8bn in taxes in the UK and we’ve signed up to the government’s code of practice on taxation.”

Read this Guardian article for details of accusations that Barclays paid only 1% tax on profits of £11.6bn.

UK Uncut are out in force today holding a “bail in” at branches of Barclays bank across the UK.

For live photo updates from Barclays protests, follow these photo streams.

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=UKuncut

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=MissEllieMae

http://twitpic.com/photos/UKuncut

http://plixi.com/8333076

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=directreaction

http://www.demotix.com/news/596509/ukuncut-protest-occupy-banks-londons-west-end

A message to the SWP and Labour

People of the Labour Party, and of the Socialist Worker Party, I have a message for you.

Please don’t destroy our opposition to the cuts.

If that seems harsh, it is. But that is what you are doing. I have had several personal testimonies from people that have attended meetings of anti-cuts protesters but have left or are strongly considering leaving the movement because of takeover attempts by the SWP and recruitment efforts by Labour. Some people attest that people actually walked out of meetings because of the actions of the SWP at those meetings.

SWP, you are seen as too hardcore. You seem to want to run every meeting and every protest. You seem to feel that everyone should agree with you on all issues, and you berate anyone that disagrees with you. Your newspaper sellers are seen as so annoying and persistent that Laurie Penny said “It is highly likely that even after a nuclear attack, the only remaining life-forms will be cockroaches and sour-faced vendors of the Socialist Worker.” Not a nice comment to make, but it does show the common perception of the SWP.

In a quick poll that I conducted on twitter @suziruk said “The SWP patronise and undermine students by making it ‘all about them’ rather than allowing individuals to protest for their own reasons. They see themselves as vanguards of the movement but I think they overestimate their relevance to it.” She later added “Actually one thing I’d say is that when I talked to them individually they are mostly nice people in it for the right reasons.”

Commenting on more prominent people in the anti-cuts movement, @millie_epona said “exactly, and people who think they’re more important and can talk down. I feel pushed out of it at the moment they just make me feel like I have no role. Have stopped going to local meetings so now know I am becoming an armchair activist because I didn’t want to join SWP, basically.”

Labour, you have let down too many people. Your last government privatised and sold our country just as much as our current one, and introduced some terrible authoritarian laws. You aren’t trusted any more, and you haven’t earnt back any trust since losing power last year. You are seen to be drifting along with the governments savage cuts with barely any opposition. You are seen as responsible for many of the same problems which are used as an excuse for the cuts by the Conservatives. It is possible that you have changed, probable that you will change, but as you try to recruit people through their opposition against the cuts you simply alienate them from both your party and the cause. The Netroots UK conference held a few weeks ago was criticised because it was (perhaps unfairly) seen as a recruitment drive for Labour. People felt that the message given to them throughout the day was that they should join the Labour party. Other people have since espoused the view that people should join the Labour party, fight to change it, and then fight against cuts.

@seancourt said “I’m annoyed with people who believe that change can only come if we all say nice things to Labour and ‘reform’ it. Joining Labour won’t reform it, they’ll be the same party that they always were. Only by agitating and forming resistance can we really reform politics.”

The trade unions also need to hear this message. Many people think that they have been slow to join in against the cuts because they want to organise the protests themselves, and would rather people joined them than the other way around.

I have great respect for those that choose to work within a party to achieve their aims, but the fact is, most people do not want to join Labour or the SWP, or a trade union. Many disagree with policies of all of those. People share some causes and disagree on others but it should be acceptable to unite on the causes that we agree upon without pressure to accept the rest. Everyone can and should join the anti-cuts fight if they agree with it, regardless of party affiliation and I am not telling anyone otherwise. I am simply asking the SWP to please refrain from taking over meetings and protests, and I am asking Labour and the SWP to stop using the anti-cuts fight as a recruiting ground for their own ends.

Monopolise Resistance? – how Globalise Resistance would hijack revolt

How to deal with the SWP

The financial giants own you

Many have argued that the only hope for the British economy is to prop up the financial institutions. I have been told that since the UK no longer has a manufacturing industry and cannot compete for work against the likes of China and India, we must focus on being the financial centre of the world as our only hope for our future economy. I strongly disagree. The financial industry is insular and self serving. It might account for a vast percentage of the GDP, but ordinary people do not gain any benefit from that.

It may be true that safeguarding our financial system will keep the GDP of the country up and will keep safe all those investment funds and pensions. People that have had well paid jobs for many years have an interest in keeping “the city” and all those banks going so that they can receive their pension for the next 20 years of their retirement. Unfortunately it does very little for anyone else. It does nothing for those that can’t get jobs, can’t afford to save anything for a pension, can’t buy a house, that perhaps are even struggling to pay for rent and food. Giving tax money to the banks does not result in loans for small business, it results in multi-million pound bonuses for bankers. It was certainly not right to prop up financial institutions at a cost that hurt millions of people.

The government argues that high taxes will drive business away from the UK. I say let them go. Big businesses do not look out for the interests of ordinary people. Imagine if our banks were replaced by credit unions. If our supermarkets were replaced by co-operatives and by small shops on the high street once more, and they purchased their food from local farms at decent prices and did not toy with farmers livelihoods.

Adding to the outrage about the tax changes for the largest companies, the City of London works directly for those financial giants. The City is, astonishingly, independent of the crown and is not governed by parliament. It has a £900 million investment fund. It is not a democracy; instead it is governed by a council of Aldermen. Only a  freemen of the city may stand for election to the council, and someone can only be granted that position by a city Livery Company. You can’t stand for election just by living there.  The City has a Lord Mayor whose stated role is to travel the world to promote the financial industry.  Above all, the City does not work in your interests. It exists to serve the rich financial institutions, and it doesn’t even hide it. Source: www.taxresearch.org.uk

It is not surprising that the government is making these changes, especially in light of this information:

A study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has found that the City accounted for £11.4m of Tory funding – 50.79% of its total haul – in 2010, a general election year. This compared with £2.7m, or 25% of its funding, in 2005, when David Cameron became party leader. Source: The Guardian

I am not an economist, and I could well be wrong in my opinion of the importance of the financial industry. But I don’t think I am wrong in this: big business pay for the Conservative party. They control the committees that advise the government. It might be conservative ideology to sell us all to their big business pals, but the Liberal Democrats gave the Conservatives the power to do what they are doing and Labour was no better. Democracy has been hijacked and capitalism has failed us.

The government have sold us out

“Our political system protects and enriches a fantastically-wealthy elite, much of whose money is, as a result of their interesting tax and transfer arrangements, effectively stolen from poorer countries and poorer citizens of their own countries. Ours is a semi-criminal money-laundering economy, legitimised by the pomp of the Lord Mayor’s show and multiple layers of defence in government.” George Monbiot

Since the Conservative government came to power I have been trying to understand the reasons for their actions that I disagree with so much. I have wanted to find a balanced view of what is happening, and tried to convince myself that they really think that what they are doing is for our benefit. I have been assured by my own MP that he thinks that despite the changes to benefits and the cuts to public services, the vulnerable are protected. I wanted to believe that the government thought they were fixing the economy, even if I disagreed with their methods.

I was a fool. The government are lying to us and they know exactly what they are doing.

The headline you will probably have seen today is Government to increase bank levy to £2.5bn and if you read the article you will see that the banks are “livid” about it. It looks like the government is actually doing something about the injustice in our tax system. In fact, it will raise just £800m extra in taxes.

The problem is, that £800m gain will be completely wiped out by what George Monbiot has called “the biggest and crudest corporate tax cut in living memory.

David Cameron told us that while he would like to cut tax, the country is in so much debt that we just can’t. Despite this, he and his government plan to quietly adjust the tax acts of 1988 and 2009 to scrap the requirement for large companies to pay tax in the UK on money earned abroad but not taxed at our levels. We will become one of only two countries in the world that does not charge tax on money that has passed through tax havens. The changes to the law will apply strictly to vast multinational corporations such as banks, oil companies and worldwide communications companies. The quantities of money involved will make even the £6bn of tax that Vodafone wriggled out of look like a pittance compared to to what our economy will lose now. This isn’t just about money either. These changes will make it pay to send jobs abroad too, and many more people will join our unemployed on the scrapheap.

Whose idea was all of this? The government consulted committees about changes to corporate tax law. Here’s some businesses that had representatives on those committees: Vodafone, Tesco, BP, British American Tobacco, HSBC, Santander, Standard Chartered, Citigroup, Schroders, RBS and Barclays.

We did not vote for the changes. This was not in any election manifesto. This was not in any party policy documents. As far as I know, it was not discussed at any party conference. The changes here amount to nothing less than vandalism and theft.

Our government is giving money back to the super rich at the same time as selling off our health service, privatising our education system, removing vital income from the sick and the disabled, cutting care services, killing libraries, even getting rid of public toilets, and much, much more. They are not your government. They exist to serve the filthy rich. Most of the cabinet ARE filthy rich, and they are treating you with contempt.

If you are not angry about this, you should be. If you are not already prepared to stand up and protest, start now. If you are not telling the government that we don’t want this, you deserve what the government is going to do to you. Find an action group. Start your own group if you can’t find one locally. The TUC are organising a massive demonstration on the 26th of March and we should support it. If you can’t physically join a protest, campaign on line. Join a campaign, get involved and say no!

Resources

UK Uncut

National campaign against fees and cuts

False Economy

March For the Alternative

The role of online activism

Much has been said recently about the role of the internet and online activism in protests in the UK and in more serious uprisings in places such as Tunisia and Egypt. Many people speak derisively about the use of social networks in activism as something that will never bring about any change and as a waste of time. Clearly some people disagree, for example the Egyptian government recently shut down most of the internet across the whole country in an effort to stifle the protests there.

There are two natural uses of social media in activism. The first is in simple organisation of events, typically on Facebook. People are now used to responding to party invitations issued as an “event” on Facebook and it is a logical step that protests and marches be organised in the same way. It is now standard for protests everywhere to have a Facebook event page and for many people to indicate on that page that they will attend.

The second natural use is as a way to keep in contact which replaces the mailing list. Groups such as 38 Degrees and Amnesty are good examples of this. Their members sign up on their websites, Facebook and so on, and then receive messages indicating progress made and issuing calls to action. The action is mostly in the form of emailing or writing a letter to various politicians but also covers making sure that news media are aware of the situation and give it coverage. It is clear from recent successes of online campaigns that they do make a difference, even without physically going out into the streets to protest.

Now there is a new use of social networks, and twitter in particular, and that is for online activists to support and promote the “offline activists” that are actually out there on the streets protesting. Those of us connecting up information at home have a big role in it all. We’re collating media, commenting, and linking in all the people that are following the protests, keeping it a cohesive whole.

During every demo, we are frantically passing information to people on twitter, facebook and through blogs to raise awareness amongst our friends that would otherwise be oblivious to what is going on. We have also orchestrated campaigns to get people to complain to the BBC and other news outlets about the lack of coverage. (There have been many many more protests than have been covered by the news, but only the ones with vandalism or violence seem to get coverage.) During the protests photos, video and comments are continuously sent out to twitter from the scene. Activists at home watch the stream of information coming in from those that they follow and via the relevant hashtag. We read the comments, look at the photos and videos and retweet the best ones. The ones that get retweeted by enough people end up causing a retweet storm, appearing in the hashtag timelines over and over again. We pick the best stuff from Facebook and twitter, and write about it on blogs or post it back to social networks where our friends that aren’t directly involved will see it. Once the protesters have returned home and looked at twitter, it is the most popular items that they see. In this way the ones at home have selected the best items and passed them on to all the protesters both to let them know what was happening at all the other protests and to allow them to share the best bits with their own family and friends.

Another aspect of this process that takes place online during the protests is the sharing of information between protesters. As many of the protesters post up information about what is happening around them, others nearby can see and react to this information. The point at which I first realised this was during the protests on the 30th of November. Protesters were desperate not to be kettled by the police and so they broke into groups and scattered across London at the first sign of police blocking anything. As they ran across London, many people sent messages to twitter asking where the police where, and others tweeted about where they had seen the police. People at home responded by passing information from the ones that knew to the ones that did not, and also added in information taken from watching live TV footage. Protesters on the ground actually changed direction based on this information to avoid the police. At other protests twitter has been used to clarify information about how best to leave an area, to find people, and to warn people away from danger such as areas where police where using batons or charging with horses.

So useful has this been, that a group of clever people have taken this whole process and packaged it up into a system called Sukey. Sukey collates information from all the protesters, the police, and the people watching TV or just retweeting information from the scene, and then feeds it all into computer algorithms that watch for trouble spots forming. Sukey then alerts people at the protests via text messages and through maps on their mobile phones and hopefully gives them enough warning to get away before any trouble. This worked admirably well on the 29th of January and even forced the police to be more open and provide more information. My only regret is that Sukey may have made some of my contribution redundant!

In this world of online activism it is still of vital importance that people actually go out and protest in person. To this end there have been quite a few events, workshops and campaigns aimed at turning online activism into offline action. One blog that you should look at for this is Beyond Clicktivism. While it is vitally important for people to have real involvement away from the internet, there are many people that are unable to do so for various reasons including responsibilities at home or work, or illness and disability. For these people online activism is the only way that they can play a part.

Online activists, then,

  • Write articles and blogs about the cause, both for activists and for the public
  • Sift through photos, videos and articles then promote the best ones to other activists.
  • Present the cause, and news about events to activists and non-activists
  • Convey information between activists, keeping them linked and safe
  • Keep a continuous presence on social networks, thus keeping other people engaged
  • Allow people that cannot physically attend protests to play a large part anyway

I was fascinated by a recent article from Market Sentinel and a network graph about connections on twitter related to UK Uncut. The connections are assessed by how often what a person says in connection with the #ukuncut hashtag is retweeted by other people. This is a very rough indication of how involved each name is within UK Uncut. The graph does not show the names of leaders, but the names that the most people find interesting enough to pass on. Because anyone can tweet on the #ukuncut hashtag the graph also shows some of the trolls – unpleasant people trying to bait and taunt others – that were retweeted by other detractors of UK Uncut.

A graph showing influence and connections within UK Uncut on Twitter
Network graph of people most active on #ukuncut - Click to show the full size version

UK Uncut on Newsnight

UK Uncut were featured on BBC Newsnight this evening. I recorded it and uploaded to Youtube to make sure that it reaches a wide audience. (iPlayer is restricted to the UK and only keeps programmes for a week.)

UK Uncut on Newsnight (Part 1) featuring a report on UK Uncut organisation, protests and the CS Spray incident. The documentary film was made by Fat Rat Films, and you can view that seperately on Vimeo.

UK Uncut on Newsnight (Part 2) Studio discussion with Tony Smith from UK Uncut and Richard Baran from the Institute of Directors. Please note that the police claim to have provided medical attention after using CS spray is false.

More information on UK Uncut

UK Uncut website

UK Uncut on Facebook

Twitter: @ukuncut #ukuncut

More on the CS spray incident

More attacks on the right to protest: CS spray

More information about CS spray and UK Uncut

Just in case you don’t believe your ears about what Paxman said at the start of the UK Uncut segment, here it is again.