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Big Society Bail-In

In light of Barclays' reported earnings and levels of paid taxes, protesters last Saturday took over a West End branch of the bank to make their voices heard... through comedy

PhotographyRobin SinhaTextHuw Nesbitt

Despite the cold wet rain, last Saturday around 50 protesters occupied Barclay’s Tottenham Court Road branch as part of an event organised by the British activist group, UK Uncut, in protest against the bank's one per cent corporation tax contribution to pre tax profits of £11.6 billion in 2009. This, whilst the rest of the country’s public services are suffering severe financial cuts. Once inside, what took place was a series of cabaret acts highlighting this gross discrepancy (stand up comics, a Marxist magician), as well as placard drawing sessions ('We are not all in this together' read one, hung out a window, lampooning the coalition’s 'Big Society' rhetoric) and several cases of anxiety trauma from bemused security staff unsure of how to cope with the influx. Speaking to one of the comics, Chris Coltrane, he explained to Dazed what Saturday’s action was about.

Dazed Digital: So why are we all here today, then?
Chris Coltrane:
 Well, today is about bringing people’s attention to Barclays, who have gotten away with so much as they were one of the few banks that weren't directly bailed out by the tax payer, but who still wouldn’t be here if we hadn't bailed out all of the others. Even a cursory look at their Wikipedia page will tell you that they are one of the worst culprits out there who not only recently dodged tax but funded Mugabe and Apartheid. Most of all, they’re still one of the biggest representatives of "Casino Capitalism" and they are still paying its employees huge bonuses essentially for reckless gambling, and we're here today to raise awareness of that.

DD: So is UK Uncut an anti-capitalist organisation?
Chris Coltrane:
 This is the interesting thing and the reason UK Uncut has been so successful because doesn't concern itself with whether it's anti-capitalist or not, focusing instead on just one very clear message: the rich need to stop dodging tax. Anything else that comes from that, such as all the different opinions that the various individuals involved might hold are irrelevant, as long as we are all united on this one point.

DD: True. Even the mainstream media appears to agree. Do you think it’s strange that the news channels and newspapers are behaving favourably?
Chris Coltrane:
 It’s amazing, because while so many of the main news corporations are tax-dodgers, so many of them have given us positive coverage. Sky News was even at our very first demonstration, and we’ve also been featured in the Guardian and the Independent. Even The Daily have been occasionally on our side, which is extraordinary but not inexplicable, since they’re fundamentally a publication that’s aimed at middle class people who don't like the poor but also don't like the ultra-rich ripping them off, so it fits into a narrative their audience can understand. Most of all, the reason most people are on our side is because we are right. The cuts affect everyone, and when we see all of these sad things happening in our society while these companies are dodging billions of pounds of tax… well, you'd be mad to stand by and let that happen. Who could agree with the notion that rich people should stop paying tax while the poor have to pay more?

DD: Are there any concerns, however, that because this consensus of opinion is such a middle class one, that it could quite easily be undone because of the fragility of its constitution?
Chris Coltrane:
 Possibly, but I think it would be very difficult. Some middle class people are attracted to protests because they have the time, whereas many working class people simply do not. In my ideal world, I would like it if everyone could all work less so that everybody could have a chance to become active in politics. As things are, many adults just have too many commitments to feasibly be able to do so, but if we got the rich people to pay their tax then we would have better services and we wouldn't have to run them ourselves - as the coalition would like us to - and then maybe we would all have time to get involved. But as far as UK Uncut goes, we have to keep the momentum going, and so far we have done so. And I have a good feeling that as the issue of bankers bonuses come to front of the general public's consciousness, this movement will get stronger.