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No taxation without consent?

Chris Coverdale is a local activist, anti-war campaigner and advocate of non-violent direct action as a means of achieving social and political change. HOT’s Sean O’Shea talks to him about his involvement with the tax resistance movement.

It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.

 Tony Benn

According to the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), legitimate democratic government depends on the consent of the governed and this consent may be withdrawn at any time. This principle informs the United States’ Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

At election time citizens choose between various parties on the basis of the limited policy information made available to them. Aside from infrequent referendums and consultation exercises, that’s a citizen’s lot in the theatre of parliamentary democracy.

Our consent is not sought for ongoing local and national government decision-making, and it is never sought for the most important decision of all, the decision to wage war. The weasel words ‘tacit consent’ are often invoked to justify this state of affairs.

Chris Coverdale reminds us that a new international law was introduced in 1999 and for the first time in history the financing of acts of terrorism became a universal criminal offence. If a person provides money to another knowing that it may be used to buy firearms or explosives that might be used to endanger human life, they commit an offence.

He contends that by conforming to the putatively legal requirement to pay our taxes, knowing that some of our money will be used to bomb targets in Iraq and Syria taking the lives of innocent civilians, we become complicit in war crimes and liable to criminal proceedings.

However, he reports that he has not yet been able to find a court or judge in England willing to uphold, obey or enforce the current legislation on war and war crimes.

In a previous article in September 2016, you discussed the background to the Tax Resistance Movement. Have you anything to add to that account?

I described then how tax resistance as a means of achieving political change was used to good effect in the English, French and Russian revolutions, used by Gandhi in his drive for Indian independence and more recently by the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Glasgow Women’s Rent Strikers, and the anti-Poll Tax campaigners.

But in that article I didn’t put enough emphasis on the importance of the changes in law. What used to be described as civil disobedience has now become civil obedience. By taking part in lawful tax resistance until the Government obeys the laws of war, citizens are engaging in a civil obedience campaign. By obeying the law against funding war and withholding tax we can force the Government to obey the law governing war and peace. By running the world’s first civil obedience campaign, we can force our leaders to obey the UN Declaration on Principles of International law, we can end Britain’s involvement in illegal war and we can ensure that the leaders responsible for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and the murders of men, women and children are held to account in court for their war crimes. The theory is clear; if we all OBEY the law, we can all end war.

But it is not only about ending war. Because taxes fund every aspect of Government we can engage in lawful tax resistance to force beneficial change in every area of life in Britain. Take housing for example. Increasing levels of homelessness, ridiculously high rents and the impossibility for many people of ever purchasing their own homes are matters that every political party has failed to address. I believe that we can solve Britain’s housing crisis in weeks if thousands of us engage in lawful tax and rent resistance.

By refusing to pay tax until the Government ends its ‘investments’ in war and changes housing law, we can force Parliament to take a giant step towards equality of wealth and property. This would entail introducing a new housing act that guarantees every citizen a free home and only one home for life, ends private ownership of housing, land and commercial property and transfers it into the ownership of the local community.

It’s my belief that tax resistance is the single most effective non-violent method of social change yet devised, and if we can organise ourselves effectively and adopt it collectively we can make giant strides towards a peaceful, just, equal democratic society.

The single best reference book I’ve come across on this subject of tax resistance is We Won’t Pay, A Tax Resistance Reader, edited by David M Gross, Picket Line Press 2008. This book is an invaluable source of inspiration, education and practical guidance for those who wish to find out more and I strongly recommend it to interested readers.

Could you update us on your individual tax resistance campaign which you are pursuing with Hastings Borough Council?

When I became a resident of Hastings in February, I wrote to the Council notifying them of the changes in war law that affect the collection and payment of tax and I informed them that residents have a duty under sections 15 and 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 52 of the International Criminal Court Act to withhold council tax and that councillors have a duty under the same laws to suspend the collection of council tax and business rates.

Unfortunately they’ve ignored my letters and the law and seem determined to continue to break the law. It does worry me that our elected representatives can ignore the criminal law of England and Wales and get away with it because no-one in a position of authority in Britain is prepared to obey, uphold or enforce the laws against the funding of war.

A bid to prosecute Tony Blair for war crimes, brought by a former chief of staff to the Iraqi army, has recently been blocked by the High Court on the grounds that a war of aggression is not illegal in UK law. Could you comment on this judgement, and doesn’t it invalidate your contention that aggressive wars are in breach of UK law?

I have to say that I was appalled by this judgement, but being aware of the deficits of the British justice system I was not surprised.

When Germany’s leaders were tried and convicted at the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal in 1946 for waging 11 wars of aggression in breach of international war law, the British judge, Hartley Shawcross, who wrote the judgement said:

“In the opinion of the Tribunal, the solemn renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy necessarily involves the proposition that such war is illegal in international law; and that those who plan and wage such a war with its inevitable and terrible consequences are committing a crime in so doing… Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.”

To me, and to 99% of the English-speaking world, this statement is crystal clear and as relevant today as it has ever been. Anyone who plans, starts or wages a war of aggression such as those against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, commits the supreme international crime and must be arrested, tried and punished for their crimes. But unfortunately that is not how Britain’s judges interpret this precedent.

Are there any moves afoot to ensure that UK law is brought in line with international law on this matter?

Yes there are, but they aren’t necessary. UK law is already in line with international law. Our problem in Britain is that our leaders and lawyers never obey, uphold or enforce it and are never held to account in court for breaking it. If law enforcement authorities had done what they are paid to do and prosecuted all those MPs responsible for taking us to war, none of our 21st century wars would have taken place, our victims would be alive today and we would be £500 billion better off.

We really don’t need more laws. What we desperately need is for our political, civil and military leaders and taxpayers to obey the law, for lawyers to uphold the law, for our law enforcement officers to enforce the law and our judges to dispense justice under the law.

If every UK resident obeys the law against funding war and withholds tax until the wars have stopped, our Government will be unable to fund its wars and they will end within weeks. If in future we all do our bit to uphold the UN Charter and the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law we can ensure that Britain never again wages illegal war and permanent peace prevails.

In its recent manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, the Labour Party reiterates its commitment to renewing the Trident submarine-based nuclear missile programme and to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. Could you comment on this policy stance?

It is totally immoral, unequivocally illegal and profligate. Every one of the individuals responsible for adopting this malevolent policy which will cost £4,000 per taxpayer knows the horrific effects of a nuclear explosion and understands the devastating consequences of the use of such weapons. They should also be aware that their involvement in planning, funding or supporting the use of such weapons makes them criminally liable and accountable in law for crimes of ‘conspiracy to murder’, ‘conduct ancillary to genocide and crimes against humanity’ and ‘complicity in a crime against peace’.

That the Labour Party can adopt this Conservative Lib-Dem policy, and have the temerity to say that it is fundamental to the nation’s ‘defence’, shows just how far politicians of all our major parties are willing to compromise their standards and values when their positions of power are at stake.

That they can call it a policy For the Many not the Few is also a disgrace. The only people who benefit from this massively costly defence policy paid for by the many UK taxpayers are the few American bankers and arms manufacturers who fund, make and sell these missiles.

I am utterly appalled by this decision and will do everything I can to persuade Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to hold firm to the anti-war, pro-humanity policies that brought them to power. I would also urge readers to write to Labour Party HQ and ask them to reverse this decision or risk losing their vote.

Somewhat paradoxically Corbyn recently appointed Fabian Hamilton, MP, as Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament. This indicates a commitment, in principle at least, to making the issue an international priority. Have you any plans for getting in touch with Mr Hamilton, and what points might you want to raise with him?

Yes, I’ve already written to Fabian Hamilton with a copy of the laws of war asking him to set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group to ensure that everyone in Parliament is aware of the laws of war and what they as MPs and peers need to do to obey, uphold and enforce them.

I have to say that I think that this is one of the best initiatives Jeremy Corbyn has taken since he became leader of the Labour Party, and providing the role and responsibilities of the minister are clearly specified and understood by all the civil servants and lawyers seconded to the department, it could be the single most important initiative undertaken by the Labour Party this century. I wish it every success.

Further information

For further information and/or if you’d like to contribute to local peace and democracy initiatives, contact Chris Coverdale( ccovers@gmail.com).

See also Hastings Against War and related links, and Voices For Creative Non-Violence.

SOS

 

Posted 10:22 Sunday, Sep 10, 2017 In: SOS

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