In Defence of Liberty

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Forced Perspectives and Protests

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It’s much bigger on Twitter. (Edited: Bored Panda)

On Saturday, thousands of protesters arrived in London to demand that the Prime Minister David Cameron resign and the government closes loopholes relating to tax havens. This article seeks to delineate components of this protest: the media coverage, the size, and the reasons for the protest.

Coverage

The protests were covered extensively in national media organisations. There are articles on the ‘Resign David Cameron’ protests in the BBC [1], ITV [2], the Daily Mirror [3], the Huffington Post UK [4], the Independent [5], the International Business Times [6], the Daily Mail [7], Bloomberg [8], and others. The organiser of the protest, freelance journalist Abi Wilkinson, described the coverage as “enormous”.

Despite this coverage, there were still people claiming that news organisations were not covering the protests. This is really indicative of conspiracist threads interwoven in the radical tapestries of politics.

Alternative forms of this reasoning sought to declare that the broadcast media gave insufficient time to these protests.

One Twitter user claimed to me that the BBC News programme “didn’t go into detail of it, not even how many or that it was today”. The protesters were shouting “David Cameron must resign” in the news clip, estimates of the protest were given elsewhere and it was clearly on the same day of David Cameron’s speech on the local elections.

Attendance estimates

The estimates for attendance at the protests were in the “hundreds” or “thousands”, with the Huffington Post UK suggesting that “around 1,000 demonstrators” attended the rally. This should be compared against major protests, with the 2011 March for the Alternative being attended by nearly half a million people [9]. This is really a forced perspective of protests, that appear much larger on social media than the actual protests themselves. Commentator Laurie Penny gave an estimate of 4,000 protesters.

The story’s context is misunderstood too: the protests are not a story in of themselves, but form part of the wider story about the Prime Minister’s tax affairs, which had already substantially moved on by 11pm. The PM had released a summary of his own tax returns [10].

Comparisons and inspirations to the Icelandic protests which expelled their Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson have been formed. 22,000 people were believed to have gone out onto the streets in Iceland, and the country’s population is approximately 330,000 [11].

By contrast, if 4,000 people went to London on a sunny Saturday, of a country’s population of around 64 million, then that is less than 0.007%. Given the short time for organisation, this is not a poor attendance, but suggests the protests had competent media management.

Reasons

Lastly, there are the reasons for the protest. Ms Wilkinson was more focussed on the Prime Minister’s lobbying with regards to transparency of trusts. This matter was not hidden or secretive, and is on the government’s own website [12]:

It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts. This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies – such as central public registries – may well not be appropriate generally.

Interviews with the protesters elucidated that they did not appear to know what had actually happened with the Prime Minister’s tax affairs. One protester said “£30,000 [tax evasion] is a serious offence”.

It is, but the Prime Minister did not ‘evade’ £30,000 of tax: he paid British tax on the sale of units in a trust fund, the sale value of which was equal to around £30,000 [13].

The BBC captured the following exchange [14]:

Protester: The Prime Minister of the country should be leading by example. If I or you were to not pay our taxes or to hide them off in tax havens, we’d probably go to prison, whereas he hasn’t.
Reporter: He did say he paid his tax though, and he did sell these shares before he became Prime Minister, so actually he hasn’t done anything technically wrong.
Protester: Of course he’s going to say that, isn’t he? Because he doesn’t want to — he’s sent to prison, it’ll look as he’s in a bad light or anything negative.

There is no suggestion that the Prime Minister engaged in tax evasion. Holding units in an offshore fund is not illegal nor immoral, and many people will have indirect investments in “tax havens” via their pension schemes.

When there appears to be little comprehension of news reports, there is vanishing hope that these protesters will understand tax law. The raw anger felt at these protests is what arises when legality is muddied with morality, and people become convinced of the devilry of their political opponents.

References

[1] BBC, 2016. David Cameron: I could have handled tax row better. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36004856 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[2] ITV, 2016. He’s Got To Go: Protesters call for Cameron’s resignation. Available from: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2016-04-09/hes-got-to-go-protesters-call-for-camerons-resignation/ [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[3] Haworth, J., and Evans, S., 2016. David Cameron protest: Recap after thousands call for PM’s resignation over Panama Papers scandal. Daily Mirror. Available from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/david-cameron-protest-recap-after-7720558 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[4] Snowden, K., and Bowden, G., 2016. David Cameron Resignation Protest Sees Hundreds Demonstrate in London. Huffington Post UK. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/resign-cameron-protest-blocks-entrance-to-conservative-conference_uk_5708e687e4b07a35187c12b6 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[5] Griffin, A., 2016. ‘Resign Cameron’ protests: Thousands to gather at Downing Street to ask Prime Minister to step down. Independent. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/resign-cameron-protests-thousands-to-gather-at-downing-street-to-ask-prime-minister-to-step-down-a6976036.html [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[6] James, B., 2016. Thousands of Protesters Chant: ‘David Cameron Must Resign’ Over Panama Papers. International Business Times. Available from: http://www.ibtimes.com/thousands-london-protesters-chant-david-cameron-must-resign-over-panama-papers-2351114 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[7] Burrows, T., and Sculthorpe, T., 2016. Thousands march on No10 calling for Cameron to quit over tax revelations as Lily Allen brands him ‘dishonest’ – and under-fire PM admits ‘I could have handled it better’. Daily Mail. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3531269/David-Cameron-unpopular-Jeremy-Corbyn-PM-agrees-publish-six-years-tax-returns-Panama-Papers-leak.html [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[8] Morales, A., 2016. ‘Blame Me’, Says Cameron as Crowds Protests Panama Papers. Bloomberg. Available from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-08/cameron-turns-to-local-election-fight-after-offshore-tax-scandal [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[9] CNN, 2011. Demonstrators swarm central London to protest spending cuts. Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/26/uk.london.demonstration/index.html?hpt=T2 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[10] Sky, 2016. What We’ve Learnt About Cameron’s Wealth. Available from: http://news.sky.com/story/1675781/what-weve-learnt-about-camerons-wealth [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[11] Robert, Z., 2016. Record Number of Icelanders Protest Over Panama Papers Scandal. Iceland Review Online. Available from: http://icelandreview.com/news/2016/04/04/record-number-icelanders-protest-over-panama-papers-scandal [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[12] GOV.UK, 2013. Letter from David Cameron to Herman Van Rompuy. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/258997/PM-letter-tax-evasion.pdf [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[13] Peston, R., 2016. Cameron: I had stake in my father’s offshore trust. ITV. Available from: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-04-07/cameron-i-had-stake-in-my-fathers-offshore-trust/ [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[14] BBC, 2016. Downing Street protesters call for Cameron to resign. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36006447 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

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This entry was posted on April 11, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , , , .
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