Faith in action: William Taylor
In 2012, I was asked by the filmmaker Mark Donne to be involved in a documentary film he was making called The UK Gold; it premiered at the East End Film Festival this summer. The film tells the story of the role that the City and the British state play in sustaining a network of tax havens around the world. I had been concerned about the unaccountable power of the financial services since the 1990s, but I hadn’t been aware until now of the problem of corporate tax avoidance and the consequences that this has both in Britain and beyond our shores. Many of my parishioners have family living in these countries.
During the making of the film, I was particularly surprised to learn about the impact tax dodging has on developing countries. Christian Aid estimates that poor countries lose $160 billion a year through tax avoidance and tax evasion – more than they receive in aid. The City of London Corporation has immense “private” resources which it uses to influence Westminster and maintain the political consensus that the financial service industry is the goose that lays golden eggs. It turns out that these golden eggs are being laid in nests on the Cayman and British Virgin Islands – not along the Kingsland Road.
Was I anxious to confront the City by standing for election to its Common Council?* Not really, although I knew the Bishop of London had been petitioned to offer me a free transfer to the Welsh Marches. The people that work in the City are hardworking individuals who want to make an honest living. But they, like us, are part of a wider problem.
I know it sounds a bit Harry Potterish, but I believe there is a demonic spirit that animates the entire system and keeps us enslaved. I call this spirit “Griffin”, after the mythical creature that guards the entry-points into the City. As Christians we surely have the ability to look at dark things and see them for what they are. We need to confront and expose them. But, of course, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in complicated economic arguments we only half understand.
The issue of tax dodging requires proper debate. How best can our corporations serve the common good? The City generally believes that sustaining the current system is necessary if business is not going to move overseas – though it’s hard to find anyone who will make this case in person. I was disappointed that June’s G8 agreement on tax avoidance didn’t go far enough, but there is a growing coalition of individuals and institutions who want to see change.
William Taylor blogs at hackneypreacher.com
* He was twice elected common councillor in the City of London Corporation between 2001 and 2008 and stood again in 2012. The film The UK Gold (www.theukgold.co.uk) follows the events surrounding the 2012 campaign.
This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Reform.