Guest post: It's crucial we send a message to Bono that what he is doing is wrong (updated)

Posted on Thu 23rd Jun 2011, 6:15am
Updated at 25/06/11:

If they can get away with it, the wealthy establishment tend to hire heavies to crush dissent. We wanted a dialogue with U2, on an issue which is crucial for international development. Instead we got heavy handed security tactics; our highly visible (25ft high) expression of conscience was pulled down after just a few minutes – where are the festival's radical roots now we ask?

In spite of this, the ‘Bono Pay Up’ has been a great success. The whole point of the campaign was to use the national and international media to raise awareness of the importance of thinking about tax ethically, and the relationship between tax ethics and international development. This we have achieved.

We will build on this. We aim to bring about a culture shift. We want to see a world where people automatically and instinctively think about tax in an ethical context. We want to see a world where credible musicians just don’t do what U2 did in 2006 because the public won’t tolerate it.

In the meantime join us tonight in Kentish Town for the ‘Bono Pay Up’ night of music, comedy and talks, to celebrate what we achieved at Glastonbury, and to hear from Christian Aid, Tax Justice Network and Maurice Glasman about the crucial message behind the headlines.

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Original Post (23/06/11): Art Uncut: It's crucial we send a message to Bono that what he is doing is wrong

Before 2006 U2 Ltd, which deals with U2’s royalties payments, was registered in Ireland, the band’s native country, for tax purposes. At the time, Ireland had an astonishing policy of allowing artists to pay zero tax on royalties. In 2006, the Irish government decided to cap the income which can be subject to this exemption at 250,000 Euros per annum. Following this change in the law, U2 Ltd decided to move their tax affairs to Holland in order to pay less tax.

What’s wrong with this? Why not shop around to get the best deal for yourself? Isn’t capitalism driven by customers demanding the best deal for themselves? Well there’s competition and there’s competition. What we’re dealing with here isn’t competition between companies; it’s competition between countries, fighting to undercut one another’s tax rates.

This undercutting in the short term, attracts businesses greedily wanting to pay as little tax as possible. But globally, and over time, tax competition inevitably leads to an ever-dwindling percentage of profits going to governments to spend on health, education and public services and ordinary citizens end up paying the price. By ‘shopping around’ for the country with the best tax deal, U2 put pressure on countries to surrender more and more of their tax revenues to share holders.

And there is a broader issue here. Bono is publically known for being concerned with development. But tax issues are crucial to development. Christian Aid estimates that developing countries lose $160bn annually, more than the global aid budget, thanks to unscrupulous multinational companies dodging tax. If we want poor countries to become richer, we need to adopt an ethical approach to taxation. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem that U2 are taking an ethical approach to taxation. They are not thinking: ‘What’s our fair share? What do we owe the country that funded our health and education growing up?’ Rather, they’re thinking: ‘How can we pay as little tax as possible?’ Poverty will never ‘be made’ history whilst such attitudes persist.

This is why Art Uncut have decided to make weekend June 24/25 ‘Bono Pay Up!’ weekend. On Saturday 25 June, there will be a ‘Bono Pay Up’ night of music, comedy and short talks at the Bull and Gate in Kentish town, with talks by Christian Aid, Tax Justice Network, and Maurice Glasman, leading proponent of the ‘Blue Labour’ movement. On Friday 24 June it is U2’s headline gig at Glastonbury and we want to send a message to U2 that their approach to tax is not acceptable.

Join the Bono Pay Up facebook group and if you’re going to Glastonbury, check out the radical Left Field section of the festival that organises political events and go visit the Tripod Stage/Great Direct Action Space. Glastonbury has once again become the sounding board of political discontent and that’s restoring Michael Eavis’s faith:

"Politics gives Glastonbury soul and gives it back its purpose. I place these values very highly, and recently I've been lamenting a bit of a decline. I hate to admit it, but the political platform has been reducing. The overriding reason people come now is to have a good time”.

We want people to have a good time and this is not just about having a dig at Bono. But it is crucial to get people thinking about the ethics of taxation, and the relationship between tax and development. So far, UK Uncut actions have been incredibly successful at getting tax dodging into the public consciousness, highlighting the hypocrisy of government cuts to public services. This action will spread awareness of the suffering tax dodging causes to the developing world.