Happily I was in Brighton yesterday to see some old friends and so popped along to Western Road, where protesters were responding to the call-out from UK Uncut by shutting down the Vodafone store, one of dozens of actions around the country against the tax-avoiding mobile phone company.
Vodafone has become a target because of a shabby deal it cut with HM Revenue and Customs, allowing it to avoid paying vast amounts of tax on profits from a subsidiary based in Luxembourg. Instead of a £6 billion tax bill, it paid only a lump sum of £800,000 and a further £450,000 over five years. The company has replied to criticism by insisting that the deal is completely legal, which technically of course it is: its complex tax avoidance scheme is sanctioned by the state. But it has quickly become a symbol of Cameron's Big Lie that "we are all in this together." Not only are companies like Vodafone treated with incredible leniency whilst the poorest and most vulnerable face huge cuts in services they depend upon. What also infuriates people is that government connivance with corporate greed is carried out in secret arrangements by a department that is never shy of hounding ordinary taxpayers, or managing to balls-up people’s tax codes for that matter.
Around 1pm yesterday, it was all quiet at the Western Road branch of Vodafone, with just a police car parked opposite, waiting for something to happen. But within 45 minutes, the store was hurriedly closed as a small group of around 20 protesters blocked the entrance. The company's other store, in the Churchill Square shopping mall, was also shut by staff. After about an hour of good natured banter and peaceful protest, with loads of sympathetic support from passing shoppers, the police started making arrests.
More pictures on Flickr