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I haven’t been arrested

…I’ve just been very busy over the past few days, and simmering with frustration at the media treatment of Parliament Square, which has had enough coverage on the blogosphere that you don’t need me to regurgitate articles. I’m still to get round to sending complaints to the IPCC, BBC and Daily Mail. Maybe tomorrow.

I’ve been posting pretty much daily so far, partly because I wanted to get the blog going, and partly because there was a lot to write about. But from now, I think I’ll settle into a weekly-ish posting schedule. Less is more and all that.

This is a bit of a filler post. Oh well. At least you know I haven’t been attracting the attention of the boys in yellow. To lighten the mood a bit, here’s a couple of videos that are worth watching if you haven’t seen them already (and even if you have)

Daily Mail Song


The Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Melody of Tetris

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Also an enjoyable, very well put together video.

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One of the first protests I attended was part of UKUncut‘s first national day of action against tax avoidance. Back on October 30th, about thirty people occupied Oxford’s main Vodafone store – I arrived a few minutes late, but spent a productive few hours leafleting.

The movement inspired me to write to my MP. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of what I wrote, but my letter raised the subject of tax avoidance, and urged my MP (Rt Hon Andrew Smith, Oxford East (Lab)) to bring my concerns and those of the other Oxford protesters to Parliament.

I sent that letter on Tuesday via WriteToThem.com. By Saturday morning, I had received a response in which my MP said:

I was particularly concerned by the Government’s recent agreement with Vodafone, which you mention, excusing that company most of a tax bill estimated at six billion pounds.

Andrew Smith goes on:

I also share your concern that cuts to HM Revenue and Customs will have the effect of reducing revenue by catching less tax dodgers — the opposite of the saving which is the government’s stated aim. I have already taken this problem up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, along with the use of tax havens by companies in an attempt to avoid their obligations.

I have already written again to the Chancellor taking up the important points raised by this campaign, and I will send you a copy of his reply as soon as I receive it.

Then, on 26th November, I received another letter from Andrew Smith, to which he attached a copy of the reply from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. The minister responsible, David Gauke, had this to say:

The Government is fully committed to making sure that all contribute to reducing the defecit by paying their fair share of tax. Tax avoidance and evasion damage the ability of the tax system to deliver its objectives, impose additional costs on all taxpayers and undermine the tax system. It is for this reason that we recently announced that £900million would be made available over the spending review period to raise additional revenues by tackling non-compliance. This should bring in around £7billion each year by 2014-15 in additional tax.

The £900million will allow HMRC to better tackle evasion, criminal attacks, unpaid tax debt and avoidance. It will fund a range of measures, which include a fivefold increase in the number of criminal prosecutions for tax evaders and the creation of a new dedicated team of investigators to catch those hiding money offshore. More details are set out in the Press Notice we published following the announcement, which can be found at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov/press_46_10.htm.

Additionally the Coalition Agreement makes clear that the Government will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance. As announced at the June Budget, the Government will work to prevent avoidance before it occurs by building in sustainable defences against avoidance opportunities when undertaking policy reform. It will also review areas of the tax system in which repeated changes have been necessary to close loopholes, and will take firm and decisive action if further attempts are made by those attempting to avoid paying their fair share.

Please pass on my thanks to your constituents for taking the trouble to make us aware of these concerns.

Of course, it’s far from sufficient – aiming to recover less than a third of what is currently being lost each year. In his covering letter, Andrew Smith stated:

It is open to question whether the political will necessary to a determined drive against tax evasion is there.

This pretty much sums it up. However, there are a few positives to take: first, at least something is being done; secondly, writing to MPs does seem to prompt them to take up issues with ministers.

Therefore, I urge you to write to your MP, especially now, since we have quite a few things to write about. Plead for justice for Alfie Meadows and the other injured protesters. Condemn the widespread police brutality that we experienced last week. Express your outrage at kettling and cavalry charges – and your concern at the prospect of being water cannoned at future rallies. Tell them that measures so far announced to combat tax avoidance are a step in the right direction, but that more should be done. Your voice will be heard.

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As I posted last night, I was part of the “ugly, badly-dressed student rabble” that briefly occupied Oxford County Hall on Tuesday. A fantastic counter-protest has been organised by Cheney school, with 104 attendees at the moment, planning to make a statement by turning up in formal wear.

Despite the retorts that have descended on Keith Mitchell from all corners, he remains resolute in his slanderous tirade, and was this morning quoted on BBC News as saying: “This is a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on.”

Infection? Stamped on?! What a paragon of free speech this man is. Let’s all go out and stamp on anyone who disagrees with us and has the courage to speak up about it.

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A protester attempts to thrust a placard into the icy ground.

On Tuesday, I attended the march in Oxford, arranged as part of Day X2. People started gathering at Bonn Square at lunchtime – about 40 or so were milling around when I arrived just after 1pm. As the crowd grew to about 110, we waited around for 200 students who had just walked out of Cheney School, and were making their way down High Street to meet us. Right on time, with a cacophony of noise, the students – mainly aged between 14 and 18, although a few marchers were clearly younger – joined us, and we headed en masse to Cornmarket Street, chanting all the way. The marchers filled much of the pedestrianised street.

We marched around the block, before returning to Bonn Square and suddenly dashing around the corner to County Hall. I was one of at least 100 protesters who managed to get inside the building before police shut the doors.

Inside, there was some confusion, and a few school pupils got worried and wanted to go out. But after a few moments and some minor scuffles with police on the door, we got them organised and up two or three floors. There, some gathered at windows to wave at those on the street below. Others went onto the roof. I was one of a handful who went into the Tory Room, where portraits of Maggie Thatcher and David Cameron were covered up with Socialist newspapers (taking care not to damage the frames). Security staff and office workers were chatty but generally let us get on with it. In fact, they were surprisingly helpful, informing us about toilet facilities, and possible access routes to the floor.

At this point of the occupation we became concerned that if we didn’t get organised, police would start picking us off. The members’ lounge, a large room with comfy chairs and a TV, was selected as our base. It was the biggest room on the floor but still too small for the mass of occupiers. Amid concerns that people would get too cramped, I led a dozen or so pupils out of the building – police let us out without hindrance.

Shortly afterwards, the rest drifted out – police did indeed reach the room, and by and large, the protesters moved out willingly. Outside, there were a few speeches before, bizarrely, the protest moved to a “back-up” occupation of the Oxford Castle Mound. After helping a few of the younger/shorter students onto the mound, I joined about 100 in gathering at the summit, clearly visible to a busy bus route.

Eventually, we tired of this, and carefully made our way down the icy hill. From there, we proceeded down Cornmarket Street, where we closed down Vodafone, Barclays and Lloyds TSB in turn. 20 or so people, including the sound system, occupied the latter for a few minutes, before mounted police (yes, they brought in horses) pushed those of us who were outside away from the store, and the occupiers were released.

Similar to the London protests, there was a bit of cat-and-mouse around the centre, but no violence, arrests or injuries. The protest gradually dwindled in numbers as school children went home, and was wrapped up around dusk.

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FAQ

Hello. I’ll write some actual content later, but first here’s a little bit about myself. This might become something like an FAQ.

Who are you?
I am Glenn, a student and activist. I’m in my twenties, and I live in Oxford.

Why are you an activist?
I am pretty new to activism in general, and protesting in particular. My first protest was the march in Oxford on the day in late October that Vince Cable was supposed to show up. It really inspired me to get more into protesting, and at the latest protest (Oxford, Day X2), I found myself helping to organise the other protesters.

Why did you protest in the first place?
I voted for the Lib Dems in the General Election, and like many, I quickly became disillusioned. The Browne Review struck a chord, and having finally found a political voice, I decided to use it.

So why blog about it?
Because, after weeks of arguing on an internet forum (which you need to be registered with in order to view), I decided that I was getting committed and coherent enough that I should try my hand at airing my views in the public domain.

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