This is a guest post from Simon Hickman, recounting an incident of impromptu activism this August. A full version of the blog can be found here
On returning to the port of Skiathos after a €15 boat trip we were greeted by the £63 million Lionheart yacht owned by the tax dodging Sir Philip (billionaire) Green (owner of the Arcadia Group, including Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge and British Home Stores) dominating the quayside.
Most people had no idea who owned this large imposing vessel or who had actually paid for it.
Saira challenged him vocally about the £285 million tax dodge he’d pulled off and how it may have paid for the huge boat which now dominated the Skiathos quayside. Philip quickly slipped into the crowd and disappeared in to the Skiathos evening and anonymity.
In true activist style it was back to our room to prepare placards, a problem when you haven’t come on holiday prepared for a demonstration. We commandeered two large posters and a kindly shopkeeper gave us temporary custody of a marker pen which we put to immediate use. Then it was off back down to the port of Skiathos with fresh rolled up placards, one proclaiming “ Philip (Billionaire) Green £285 Million Tax Dodger” and the other “£63 Million Yacht. £285 Million Tax Thief = 20,000 NHS Nurses – 32,000 students. Pay Your Tax” returning the marker pen on the way.
As you would expect in such a holiday destination there was a multi-national crowd many of whom had no idea who Sir Philip (Billionaire) Green was. One thing they all seemed to understand was that these super rich people were abusing their power and position to fleece the normal hard working people.
Tina Green responded to our protest with the comment of “not this again” obviously not expecting to be confronted on holiday. As she boarded her luxurious yacht Sir Philip appeared and gave instructions to his crew to have us removed, quite difficult you would have thought on public land. Sir Philip then amazingly started to hurl abuse from the deck of the yacht. Instructions were given by him to the crew to “hose the morons down”. Simon and Saira retaliated vocally with “Pay Your Tax”, “Who Bought This Boat” and “You Should Be Ashamed”.
One of his lackeys from a smaller yacht moored beside Lionheart came to argue his case, it seems that in his opinion if you employ people you don’t really need to pay tax, but he was quickly dispatched by a female member of the crowd now gathered who responded with “if he’s done nothing wrong what’s the problem”.
Unbeknown to us the Mayor of Skiathos had been summoned by Sir Philip to resolve the situation, the Mayor approached us and said “this isn’t helping”, I assume he meant it wasn’t helping his pal Sir Philip. He asked us to leave the quayside as this was private property, so we moved our protest to the port perimeter.
As we walked off the quayside the Skiathos water taxi man was shouting ‘you are heroes’, maybe an exaggeration but we felt we were doing our bit. What we left behind could only be described as mayhem. A selection of Greek locals and holidaymakers entered in to a very heated debate with the Mayor. They demanded to know when the quayside had become private property and why two peaceful protesters were being treated in such a way for pointing out a matter which plagues the capitalist world.
We’d gone from a two person protest to a mass quayside argument with around fifty people looking on. We continued to engage passers-by in conversation about Sir Philip (Billionaire) Green the tax dodger, his £1.2 billion bonus and £63 million yacht and similar stories from around Europe and the world were recounted to us. Apart from the Mayor and his small yacht lackey we received support from holiday makers and locals alike.
The following day we went down to the port to see how Sir Philip was doing, there was no trace of Tina, Sir Philip or Lionheart. Not claiming to have chased him of the island as we weren’t privy to his holiday itinerary, but it was another smile moment!
What did you do on your holidays?
In 2005 Philip Green awarded himself £1.2bn, the biggest paycheck in British corporate history. But this dividend payout was channelled through a network of offshore accounts, via tax havens in Jersey and eventually to Green’s wife’s Monaco bank account. The dodge saved Green, and cost the tax payer, close to £300m. This tax arrangement remains in place. Any time it takes his fancy, Green can pay himself huge sums of money without having to pay any tax.