On the money with Gavin Hinks

gavin hinks, accountancy age editor

They are all directly related to protests about tax in one form or another.

As we digest the implications of the Budget this week, its worth recalling
how tax protests can come in all shapes and sizes ­ some amusing, some tragic,
some terrifying.

I was reminded of this when reading about the thousands of people who last
week took part in thousands of ‘anti-tax’ tea parties (a nod to the Boston Tea
Party) across the US. The parties were largely good natured but borne out of a
frustration with government spending plans and rising tax bills.

People get worked up about tax. As a young reporter, I was sent to cover a
pensioner being sentenced to a prison term for refusing to pay her council tax.
She had brought only her toothbrush to court with her.

This month 4,500 bikers protested in Westminster at what they viewed as an
extra tax on riding a motorbike, while last year lorry drivers took to the roads
to protest at fuel duty.

Thing is, people have a very fine sense of what is fair and what they see as
punitive when it comes to tax. No more so than when poll tax protestors rioted
in Trafalgar Square twenty ago. The English Civil War was at least in part
triggered by a protest against ‘ship money’.

Now I’m not saying anything Alistair Darling does will trigger something like
that. But what historic protests remind us is that levying tax can have an
extremely destabilising effect on political and cultural life.

This would have been one of the factors in the thinking of the chancellor as
he pondered his Budget. The Budget deficit is up, sooner or later the money has
to be clawed back. What will that mean to the UK after the recession has faded?

Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age

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