Billy Bragg’s Facebook tax protest gathers pace
Protest singer tells Alistair Darling he’ll miss January 31 income tax deadline unless bank bonuses are capped
Billy Bragg's campaign to cap bankers' bonuses is gathering steam, with the left-wing protest singer's Facebook group gaining 6,000 new members in the past 24 hours.
Bragg has written to Chancellor Alistair Darling to say he will withhold his income tax unless bonus payments to bankers at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the government, are capped at £25,000.
The singer is encouraging other British taxpayers to follow his lead, via the anti-establishment medium of choice, Facebook. Launched on Saturday, his group, NoBonus4RBS, jumped from 1,600 members on Monday to more than 7,480 this morning. Those who withhold their tax after the January 31 deadline face a minimum £100 fine.
Bragg said he was acting out of a "frustration borne out of a sense of powerlessness in the face of the bonus culture. I don't know what else to do."
Writing on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog yesterday, Bragg said he had been called an "anarchist" for launching the campaign. "What if everybody did this? Perhaps some form of anarchy would ensue," he admitted. "But if we are going to bring 'what ifs' into the debate, then what if we lived in a society that heaped financial rewards on teachers and nurses and soldiers rather than bankers? What if we had a financial system that encouraged fairness rather than greed? Too utopian for you? Well how about this: what if we had a political party capable of winning power at the next election?"
Last month, the National Audit Office revealed the total cost to the taxpayer of the banking bailout so far to be £850bn - including buying shares in RBS and Lloyds and indemnifying the Bank of England against losses incurred in providing liquidity to frozen credit markets in the wake of the financial crisis.
Bragg compares the reported £1.5bn RBS is planning to pay in bonuses to its investment bankers next month to the "painful cuts" in public spending being planned by the main political parties after this year's election.
He invites fellow Facebook users to write to the Chancellor and explain why they won't be paying their taxes this year. Writing on the group's Facebook page, he says: "I understand that the Treasury had little choice but to use taxpayers' money to safeguard savings and restore confidence in the financial system.
"What I don't understand is why, now that we taxpayers are the majority shareholders of these banks, we seem totally powerless to curb their excessive bonus culture?"
Bragg would appear to be in good company in believing bankers' pay should be capped. Stephen Hester, CEO of RBS, told MPs last week even his parents thought he earned too much and that he would pay his staff "the minimum we can get away with in the market place".
The singer also recalls the successful Facebook campaign last month that prevented Simon Cowell's X-Factor winner Joe McElderry from clinching the Christmas no. 1 spot.
"If nothing else, we may discover if people in this country care more about bankers' bonuses than they do about who will be the Xmas No1," he writes.
Bragg may find even more supporters flock to his group as more banks announce profits and bonuses. And of course, with that January 31 income tax deadline approaching, people may find sending a letter to Alistair Darling significantly less taxing than spending hours digging through receipts and invoices. ·
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