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The Peace Tax Seven

Birmingham 9th July 2005

The Way Forward - Creating imaginative campaign ideas
Friends Meeting House in Birmingham kindly gave a venue to PEACE TAX SEVEN and Conscience to hold a discussion about the peace tax campaign and how we might develop our current actions to involve more supporters as well as spread knowledge about the issue.

Representatives from Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), Non-Violent Communication (NVC), West Midlands CND, Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) and the Student Christian Movement (SCM) joined us for a day workshop.

Simon Heywood chaired the morning session which consisted of a number of addresses to set the context for discussion.
Robin Brookes opened with a description of the PT7 case as the thin end of a wedge behind which is a much wider campaign. So this is an opportunity for other strands of the peace movement to use to mutual advantage and hammer the wedge home.

He said, "Many people have asked what difference will it make if we succeed and get the right to divert military taxes to a peace tax fund?

"Well it will oblige government to take account of the peace tax fund. It will represent the public conscience, both as a constant nagging reminder to government and a measure of public feeling about war and the preparations for it.

Jon Nott from Conscience then gave a talk about Conscience, explaining how they work as a parliamentary lobby group and a public campaigning organisation. Conscience does a lot of unseen work via the Peace & Security Liason Group parliamentary lobby group, but would like to show a more publically active face. This ultimately depends on the members themselves becoming more actively involved, so Conscience hoped this day would spawn exciting new ideas for getting them involved as well as ideas for recruiting much needed members.
Roy Prockter gave an accountant's view of the taxes we pay so that we might consider if there are other taxes we could imaginatively protest about.

There is little opportunity from other taxes. For instance a campaign to withhold road tax would bring an immediate fine, but not be readily associated with military spending. VAT seemed to hold possibilities - but for public campaigning rather than withholding.
The afternoon was devoted to generating ideas for public protests as the most fruitful direction to pursue. We saw a need to involve young people, which was thought to be difficult in that they don't pay taxes yet, so the idea might be a bit distant from their current lives. Several good ideas emerged, including:

Street theatre - dressing up as tax inspectors; giving out money and asking people to choose how to distribute it, leading to a visual display of choice - a “penny voting” action; burning money; handing out “bombs” - “You’ve paid for the bomb, here it is;”

IOU - The “Fare’s Fair” public transport campaign was based on a legal loophole which allows debts to be settled with a “bill of payment”. The payee then has to issue an invoice for the full amount. If protesters issued bills of payment for small sums (an appropriate proportion of a total payment, such 10% of VAT on purchased goods) then the costs of invoicing could exceed the amount to be recovered. This would have an impact. The bill of payment could stipulate “Not to Be Spent On Military Preparation”

VAT and Council Tax - Campaigns on these will hit retailers/local authorities rather than the Inland Revenue, and so would need to be carefully targeted - big retailers only (who can absorb the impact of the campaign), such as supermarkets and utlities.

Stickers - could be attached to products or coins, or paper money could be stamped. Round stickers on coins would be suitable for pie-chart-style representations of military taxes. Car stickers could be distributed.

A sustained campaign aimed at undergraduates / recent graduates was suggested, with a title such as “From your first beer to your first paycheck,” in which the following elements could be combined.

“First paycheck” - on the model of the Conscience Peace Tax Return, a leaflet representing a new employee’s first wage slip, with a chunk taken out of it (serrated with bite marks), representing deductions for the armed forces.

“The King’s Shilling” - Recruiters to the Navy, in days gone by, would slip a shilling into drinks which they had bought for unsuspecting victims. By accepting the drink they had “taken the King’s shilling,” that is, accepted payment as an enlisted volunteer. From this arose a tradition of pewter tankards with glass bottoms which would enable the wary drinker to see the shilling against the bottom of the tankard before it was accepted. Alcoholic drinks are heavily taxed today, and this tax goes partly to the militaryso the idea of the King’s Shilling could form the basis of a campaign aimed at student drinkers, with beermats and other materials showing the proportion of their pint which goes to the military (approximately 1/4" or 10p). Possible content could be a gauge showing the proportion of each pint which goes to the military; or comparative statistics along the lines of “one term’s beer buys a tank.” This campaign could be run in collaboration with student groups or even CAMRA! In this case it would be up to the collaborating group to help decide on a strategy. Another inference of the King's Shilling is that we are all 'press ganged' by these little amounts - 1.75% on most goods, £16 on road tax, £12 on TV licence


At the end of the day we seemed no closer to a way of practically diverting tax, withholding tax or arranging tax affairs so as to satisfy the individual conscience. All the possibilities seemed to be in the direction of public or symbolic protest, and/or awareness raising. The immediate practical outcome in this case would be increased membership for Conscience and a revitalised “mass protest group” aspect to peace tax campaigning.

We agreed to stay in contact and review the situation as the PT7 case proceeded.


Since this mini-conference, PT7 has been refused permission to proceed to judicial review by the Court of Appeal and refused the right of appeal to the House of Lords. They will now take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which means this campaign has become Europe wide. The need for a public campaign has become even more relevant and the prospect of a Europe wide campaign is very exciting.

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