U2 AVOID DIALOGUE (AGAIN)

June 30, 2011 – 4:29 am


In 2008, Bono agreed to debate Rock & Rap Confidential editor Dave Marsh on the effectiveness of celebrity politics on Dave’s Sirius radio show. Of course, Bono subsequently backed out of the chance to defend himself in a public forum. The events at the Glastonbury Festival last weekend confirm that Bono still wants his to be the only voice we hear. The following report is filed by Rob Edwards of the Herald Scotland.

Glastonbury - the home of free thought, UK counter-culture and youth rebellion?

Not quite. Last weekend a group of idealistic demonstrators attempted to embarrass Friday night (June 24, 2011) headline band U2 over their moves to pay less tax.

Activists in the crowd inflated a 25-foot balloon saying “U Pay Your Tax 2″, planning to float it in front of the stage so that the band, their fans and thousands of TV viewers would get the message. But security guards took control of the balloon, deflated it and took it away. Several protesters were pinned against a fence, and one reported a broken finger. A guard told a photographer: “If you are press, I’ll have you.”

The protest was organised by Art Uncut, an offshoot of UK Uncut, a radical group of activists whose targets are what it deems to be big company tax-dodgers.

In a statement on June 25, Art Uncut said: “We wanted a dialogue with U2, on an issue which is crucial for international development. Instead we got heavy-handed security tactics.”

A Glastonbury Festival spokesman said: “The stewards decided to stop the banner going up, but it was their decision and not under instruction from organisers.

“They clearly decided the banner could be dangerous and could disrupt people’s view. It was a decision taken on the grounds of health and safety, not on the grounds of censorship.”

Against the background of escalating opposition to the government’s spending cuts, the Art Uncut activists are posing an uncomfortable question: why are ordinary people being asked to endure painful cuts in public services, while rock stars, sportsmen and businessmen manage to avoid paying billions of pounds in taxes, albeit legally?

For the protesters, U2 are just one high-profile symbol. They are one of the world’s biggest rock bands, fronted by Bono, a man almost as famous for trying to persuade world leaders to make poverty history as for his music.

But by arranging their business so it does not incur tax bills in their home country of Ireland, the members of U2 stand accused, along with other celebrities and multinational corporations, of depriving governments of money to pay for schools, hospitals and other crucial public services.

The total sums of money involved are enormous. The official estimate of how much tax is missing from UK coffers was £42 billion in 2008-09. But many experts suggest the real amount could be £120bn.

U2 are one of the world’s biggest rock bands, fronted by Bono, a man almost as famous for trying to persuade world leaders to make poverty history as for his music. But by arranging their business so it does not incur tax bills in their home country of Ireland, the members of U2 stand accused… of depriving governments of money to pay for schools, hospitals and other crucial public services.

To put that into context: the UK’s total public spending last year was £669bn, and the government wants to cut some £81bn over the next four years. Scotland’s budget is £35bn.

U2 moved part of their business empire to a finance house in Holland (where there is no direct tax on royalties) in 2006 after the Irish government capped a tax exemption on royalties earned from the sale and performance of their work for artists.

The band is among the world’s highest-earning musicians, reportedly earning the equivalent of about £80 million last year.

Charlie Dewar from Art Uncut said U2’s tax move “is depriving the Irish people at a time when they desperately need income to offset the Irish government’s savage austerity programme”.

He added: “There is also a whiff of hypocrisy here with Bono being so well-known for his anti-poverty campaigning, since each year developing countries lose more in tax avoidance… than they receive in aid.”

U2 hasn’t responded to the protest, though their manager, Paul McGuinness, has previously said that as a global band, U2 paid many different taxes all over the world. And the band’s guitarist, The Edge, has said in the past: “Of course we want to be tax-efficient - who doesn’t?”

The protest at Glastonbury was the first to target celebrities. In recent months, activists from UK Uncut have caused disruption at branches of companies that have allegedly avoided taxes, including Vodafone, Topshop, Barclays and Fortnum & Mason.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told the Sunday Herald: “It’s shameful that some individuals and organisations arrange their affairs to pay as little tax as they can, depriving our country’s finances of tens of billions of pounds.”

A group of campaigners known as the Tax Justice Network has also provided research that backs up the protesters’ claims.

John Christensen, an economist who directs the network, said: “While [firms] like to claim that avoidance is not illegal, the consequences are the same as tax evasion: loss of revenue for the government, declining public services, and higher taxes forced on ordinary people.”

The charity Christian Aid has estimated that tax avoidance worldwide costs poor countries £100bn a year. In most cases this will be less than the amount they get in aid from rich countries.

After the protest at Glastonbury U2 played on, seemingly oblivious. During the song One, Bono, his trademark wrap-around sunglasses blurred with raindrops, sang: “Did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth?”

Note: The above article was circulated by Rock & Rap Confidential.

  1. 3 Responses to “U2 AVOID DIALOGUE (AGAIN)”

  2. So long as they are following the law, there is nothing wrong with U2 (or anyone else) arranging their affairs so that they pay the minimum amount of tax that they are legally required to. Think the law is unjust? Then change it.

    By MrBill on Jul 1, 2011

  3. There’s nothing LEGALLY wrong with what they’re doing, but morally and ethically it’s a different story, particularly given U2’s anti-poverty pronouncements and alleged deep Irish nationalism.

    The problem with the idea of changing such unjust laws is that the same people benefiting from them use the money they saved in order to hire lawyers to maintain or craft more unjust laws that favor them.

    I gave up on U2 (as people, anyway) after Joshua Tree, when they started showing up at sorority parties in the US, claiming they ‘just want to be a rock band’ and not role models for anyone. I expect we’ll see them double-billed with Ted Nugent at some point.

    By Motorvilleboy on Jul 3, 2011

  4. So now U2 has to support European socialism?! SCREW THAT! It’s not the band’s fault that corrupt and stupid politicians promised everything to everybody. Nations need to cut off the endless entitlements to their lazy-ass populations, shrink their governments, REDUCE taxes and learn to live within their means.

    By SickOfSocialism on Jul 14, 2011

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