Monday, December 20, 2004

So you think you live in a free country?

You really think that? Well, let me tell you that you do not. On Saturday night, 11.35pm, I had two uniformed policemen at the door, threatening to kick it in unless I opened it. When I opened the window to talk to them, one pushed the window fully open, sweeping the china onto the sink, and climbed into the house.

Were they attending the scene of a serious crime? Forget it - that takes days. Were they dealing with a serious criminal? Well you judge that. While the usual Saturday night mayhem was breaking our in Bradford centre, stretching police resources to breaking point, these policement were out debt collecting - on behalf of the state. And I owed the state money - my outstanding council tax.

Last year, I withheld £80 - that being the amount owed for the police precept - as a protest against the lamentable performance of West Yorkshire Police. Despite the furore over that, they official reaction was nil. Not a thing changed. Not even a glimmer of recognition that I had a just cause, and a reasonable complaint. So this year, I added a nought.

In fact, though - for reasons which I explain below - I have been playing this "game" for years. And yes, there was a bailiff's warrant out on me, and yes I hade been playing "cat and mouse" with him. But he would have caught up with me sooner or later and, at that point, I would have paid. And the warrant stated clearly that "plastic" was acceptable.

But last Saturday night, there was not a bailiff in sight. Instead we had West Yorkshire finest, performing their priority role - debt collection. Never mind what theft, thuggery or mayhem was going on - their priority was debt collection. And, becuase they were the police and not the bailiffs, they could not accept "plastic". It had to be cash - the better part of a thousand quid (with the bailiff's fees added), or go to jail immediately, do not pass go, until Monday, when the banks open and someone could pay the money in.

So you can see the game. North has provoked them and they are going to extract their revenge. Pick a time when the maximum inconvenience and distress is caused, and go in there at a time when it is virtually impossible to get the cash, and pick up North.

Now, this could happen to every one of you that has the fortune and misfortune to own or have a beneficial interest in property – of the bricks and mortar kind. And what it amounts to is that you are only free so long as you pay your annual license fee to the state.

More commonly, this "license" is known as the council tax, for those who actually live in the property they own or rent, but its better description is that of "license". As a tax it makes no sense. It is levied arbitrarily, the charge on the individual bears no relation to his or her ability to pay, and the amount thus extracted bears absolutely no relation to the goods or services supposedly provided.

Furthermore, while you are required as of law to pay for those "services", whether you want them or not, the recipient of your enforced largess offers no reciprocation. You have no rights nor any sanction if those services that you do need or desire – which the state purports to supply – and if they fall short of the minimum expected, you must still pay – and pay, and pay.

For, each year, the state comes back with its hand out, and each year, the amount it demand increases – way above the rate of inflation - yet each year there is no discernible improvement in services and, in many respects, the quality of services claimed to be provided seem to decline.

But most crucially, unlike any other debt, there is no negotiation or recourse to the normal edicts of civil law; no appeal that the taxmasters were charging you more than you could bear; that they were unjust. The equation is simple: pay up or go to jail. You are not free men and women. The default position in this society for every person subject to this iniquitous tax is prison – we stave it off only by our annual subventions of Danegeld to the ravening monster, and we pay, whether we like it or not.

And we do pay - or you do. You grumble, we chaff, some write to newspapers, some to your MPs. You debate, you have discourses, and you vote for councillors and MPs – but none of these activities have any influence on the rate and nature of this tax. It stays, and each year it goes up. And you pay - but some of us go to prison.

So what should you do? Says Henry David Thoreau – the grandfather of civil disobedience – you are guided by your conscience. In his "papers on civil disobedience" he writes:

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.
He writes many other things on this topic, and many of those things apply to the iniquitous council tax. For instance, he suggests that:

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable… All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counter-balance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer…
Another quote from him that I particularly like is:

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
And then, in respect of each and every one of you individually, he writes:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
"Action from principle," he writes — which he defines as "the perception and the performance of right" — "changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine."

So, not paying my council tax until they come to get me is an act of folly? It is a useless, puerile gesture, which causes me and those close to me great hardship and distress? It is a waste of time – after all, you cannot beat City Hall?

All right, maybe it is all of that. But it is also an act of principle. And, as Thoreau says: "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." I agree with Thoreau on this and if, as I do, I think council tax is unjust - nay iniquitous – that the automatic penalty for non-payment is imprisonment, whatever the provocation, is a disgrace and a negation of the very concept of freedom, then what right do you have to pay it, without protest, each and every year. What right have you to roll over and take the easy way out, for convenience, for an easy life, or because you simply cannot be bothered to fight City Hall?

And here Thoreau has it in one. He writes of "obligation" – "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." That is the view I take, and I think the council tax – for all the reasons state – is a vile, perverse tax. To try my best to frustrate it is, as I see it, not an option. It is an obligation.

So, I spent Saturday night, all of Sunday and the better part of Monday in a 9ft x 9ft cell. What did you do with your weekend?


At 6:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard I empathise with your indignation, it is now time for the Nation to Dig In.

prisoner DR6833

At 12:46 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh quit grumbling already. You surely knew the risks. You were taking a political action, aware that it would have consequences and that you would be able to use the publicity around the illegality of your action in order to further the cause.

The authorities clearly outfoxed you at the end. Better luck next time - I hope that there will be a next time - in making sure that the arrest occurs at a time and place convenient to you (or not at all!).

At 1:31 am, Blogger Steve Black said...

I object the police are ment to maintain law and order not be an punitive tool of the state to demand money
Wake up England!

At 11:52 am, Blogger Dumb Brit said...

Outfoxed? They went to his home address (where they KNEW he'd be) at a time when they KNEW he'd be in, and took him in when they knew he had nowhere to run to.

Damn their cunning plans!

Face it, Anon, they didn't outfox, they just bullied.

At 4:39 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully support your political protest and condemn the enforcement action your council have taken against you.
However there are a number of misleading errors that need correcting:-

1) the police have no part in collecting unpaid council tax. They came to arrest you because you did not attend a magistrates' court hearing and they issued a warrant to get you into court. (That they offered the alternative of a cash payment is quite unusual.) To ignore the court's summons amounts to contempt of court and is taken very seriously by the law and order brigade...

2) had you bothered to answer one of the (at least) two court summonses, you'd have had an opportunity to make your political complaint to the magistrates -- despite the fact that under the law they have no real power to do anything about it.

3) you do have a way of letting "the system" hear your disagreement with the council tax -- your vote.
When the next local or national elections come 'round, contact each and every candidate and let them know your frustrations with local taxation and ask for their opinions. And make it very clear you'll not be voting for anyone who supports the current system.

By the way, I usually delay paying my council tax for around 18 months primarily because I'm usually skint, but always find a way to start clearing the debt before my council summons me for the commital hearing.
I recommend you do the same in future!
Good luck!

At 1:20 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You complain about the police coming for you, at an inconvienient time, and not playing by the rules.

But you weren't playing by the rules either. You didn't HAVE to pay them, you could have gone to jail. But you paid. So in effect, they did you a favour by offering you another way out of jail? By your own admission you hid from bayliffs and you didn't pay any council tax "for years".

If you don't like paying council tax because you think its unfair and unjust as a system, then by all means do something constructive about it. Start a cause, get people involved.

I don't mean your current "there's more of us than there is of them, lets all not pay and not conform" line though. I mean dedicate your site in other ways. Open it up to discussion. Organise a protest, but on a bigger scale than your current one man protest.

Most people dont even think about this sort of stuff. It's them who you want to speak to, get them to listen, they'll probably agree with you when you make them think about it. To be honest, I'd be impressed if you found someone who was 100% in favour of council tax and what it stands for. That's the main way to get momentum for change.

I think the council tax laws are so outdated its untrue. From the way the bills are structured, to the way the money is distributed. But defaulting on your bill and then complaining about it after is not the answer.

At 5:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do get something for your council tax (formerly "domestic rates"; the ability to vote out the admnistration that enforces it.

On the other hand, businesses pay their Non-Domestic rates for the same services as you get, many of which are useless to them - and no vote. That's why the NDR always comes so far down in a tiny little paragraph in the Budget statement. There are no votes in it, you can tinker with the idiot system so businesses in failing areas subsidise the boom areas for 5 years ... and it's an easy tax to collect.

At 4:44 pm, Blogger Adnan Mole said...

If it is the case that the defaulter is not told in advance that the Police may call to collect outstanding Council Tax and will only accept money (which is the case, I assume, from what you have presented) then this issue requires resolving, as at short notice, and not being aware the Police may call, it is likely that a defaulter would not be prepared with the required funds to pay the visiting officers.

Again, the problem lies not with the Police, but the laws.

Has anyone done anything to lobby Parliament or contact their local MP's? Surely, that would be the best way to change the situation.

At 6:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not "anonymous", I simply didn't wish to register, my name is Gareth.

I just wanted to say that I supoprt your position, and share your distaste at the conduct of the police, and both local and national government on this issue.

There is more I would want to say, but I can't bring myself to interject my own opinions into a conversation where Thoreau has already had his say. His words are very eloquent, and very powerful. I can add nothing worthy.

You have my best wishes friend.

At 4:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You pathetic idiot!
You are like so many other people who try to justify non-payment of Council Tax with by spouting on about rights, justice etc. Why not face it, you and others like you are simply dishonest, scrounging spongers.
OK, don't pay, but remember that the Council Tax pays for a vast number of services - how would you feel if your rubbish was left outside your house, your children were sent home from school and your house was left to burn (to name but a few instances) because you had not paid your contribution to the Council, the education authorities and the Fire Service?
You are obviously trying to get away with not paying, so you deserve everything coming to you.

At 8:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Blog :P

At 4:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Making a stand is a good thing. However making a futile one is pointless..the boys in blue have no choice in the matter when told to go and get you..and you are breaking the law.

If you feel so strongly then please form a party, get elected and change the law. Otherwise belt up and pay like 99% of the rest of us.

At 7:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but some of you are seriously misinformed. Research freeman of the land!


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