It is difficult these days to find apologists – particularly in Gordon Brown’s cabinet – who supported the invasion of Iraq. However, alongside the 50 per cent or so of the population who supported the war in 2003, it is no exaggeration to say that millions protested, held vigils, went on marches, lobbied MP’s and signed petitions to try and stop the war, but the government went ahead and executed their war, in our name, and with our taxes. As Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State said, when confronted by the historic anti-nuclear marches in 1982, ‘Let them march all they want as long as they continue to pay their taxes’.
Some taxpayers however – following the examples set by the American writer Thoreau in the nineteenth century, Joan Baez during the Vietnam war and pacifists in Britain in the 1980’s and 1990’s – withheld the military portion of their taxes maintaining that in matters of deliberate killing, personal conscience reigns supreme and no state can over rule the individual conscience and force its citizens to pay to kill. The courts however ruled that ‘war tax resisters’ have no option but to pay up.
In this, the courts are upholding the valid principle that taxation should not be unnecessarily divided, and that individuals in a democracy should not pick and choose how their personal contributions are disbursed. However, in doing so, conscientious objectors argue that the law as it currently stands ignores the fact that UK tax administration already divides tax revenue into a number of streams for practical reasons: given that National Insurance is accessed and administered separately from ordinary income tax. The courts ignore the unique personal urgency of the issue of the deliberate taking of human life, which is already conceded in the right to conscientious objection to military service – a right established at the height of the Great War in 1916 – and in the disinclination of political parties to dictate to MP’s consciences on comparable issues such as capital punishment.
In law nothing entitles a person to pay to kill another but it is currently impossible for any taxpaying UK citizen to live by this principle without coming into conflict with the government and the courts, because the courts enforce a policy which compels the individual taxpayer to contribute about 10 per cent of their total tax bill to military expenditure, irrespective of conscientious objection.
All walks of life
In 2004 seven taxpaying citizens decided to form a group – calling themselves the Peace Tax Seven campaign – to obtain a Judicial Review for a change in the law so that conscientious objectors can have the military portion of their taxes redirected to peace building and conflict resolution initiatives. Their lawyers, led by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, maintain that since the Human Rights Act and the right to freedom of conscience has now been enshrined in British law, British citizens have the right to translate an ancient and compelling conscientious objection directly into tax policy on this specific issue, yet, UK tax policy ignores this fact.
The group, are taxpayers from all walks of life – a retired teacher, an accountant, a psychiatrist, a writer, a toymaker, a university lecturer and a single mother who argue that they have a legal right to have the military portion of their taxes put in a ring-fenced fund solely for peaceful purposes. Their campaign has taken its toll on all seven given that alongside individual legal proceedings, bailiffs, fines and possible bankruptcy and imprisonment, they have had to raise over £50,000 to take this case all the way to the High Court for a Judicial Review. Such has been the public outrage about the invasion of Iraq that the group managed to raise the money and in July 2005 their case was heard in the High Court.
Building a culture of peace
Although the judge found the Peace Tax Seven arguments ‘forceful’ their request for a Judicial Review of current UK tax policy was turned down. At an appeal court hearing in March 2006 it became plain that the British judges acknowledged the validity of the arguments, particularly when three Lord Justices, while refusing permission for a judicial review, cast doubt on previous rulings that had previously prevented cases like this moving forward; recommending that having exhausted the British legal process the group are now in a position to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Earlier this year papers were lodged with the European Court at Strasbourg and the group is currently waiting on a decision as to when they will have their case heard. Already the legal bills are mounting and the group must raise another £70,000 to successfully fight their case in Europe.
Building a culture of peace is a difficult, complicated and uncertain process, yet it is reasonable to suggest that tax arrangements are one part of the political and civic culture, which must be developed in peaceful directions. The Peace Tax Seven are in no doubt that in the modern world conscientious objectors can fulfil all of their responsibilities to the community including the responsibility of paying for its safety and security without giving a penny to the armed forces and argue that they have the right to do so. Experts in civilian and military fields are already stressing the importance to national security of conflict prevention, civilian peace work and global justice in its wider sense. In insisting on this right the Peace Tax Seven maintain that they are standing up for the rights and for the well being of all victims of war and violence in our own community and across the world.
The Peace Tax Seven currently owe £12,000 to their lawyers and their
work will continue as the case progresses through the courts. If you
object to having your taxes used for war, please give generously to
help them challenge this issue and win their case www.peacetaxseven.com/donate.html
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History