Beware those who hold you to ransom

The billionaire founder of Phones4u, John Caudwell, hit the headlines for stating – in a magazine aimed at other super-rich people – that he would leave the UK if Jeremy Corbyn came to power and increased taxation. He states:

If Corbyn wanted to start taxing more extensively than already, my appetite or tolerance to pay much more than I’m already paying is not very big.

He went on to state that if Corbyn got into Number 10, ‘We’d just go and live in the south of France or Monaco.’

There is absolutely nothing new in rich people and large companies claiming that they would leave should taxes rise. Every pledge to raise taxes is met by swathes of companies and ultra-rich people claiming they will leave for tax havens.

In this particular instance, the claim seems specious. Corbyn wants to bring in a 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000 and 45p for those earning over £80,000. This is the reinstatement of a top rate of tax that was in force under Gordon Brown’s premiership back in 2009. This 50p top rate was cut in 2012 by George Osborne, under the Cameron government who imposed austerity measures on the poor to ‘cut the deficit’ whilst granting such tax breaks for the rich. Quite why the introduction of such a measure under Corbyn would cause him to up sticks seems hard to understand when he stuck it under Brown.

As Mark Steel put it, back in 2009 when the original 50p tax rate was brought in:

Almost every one of these complaints tells us the rich will be battered as all their money will be taken, so they’ll leave the country. But the same people also insist no extra money will be raised from the rich because, as Boris puts it “the new rate will simply be another challenge for their tax accountants.” So why will they leave the country then? Presumably Richard Branson will snarl “They’ve brought in a new tax that I’ll get out of paying, making no difference to my life whatsoever. That’s it, I’m moving to Egypt.”

The Independent

Caudwell will reply that he has paid 66 times more in tax than Google and has called on them to ‘pay their fair share.’ But he also claimed, ‘they don’t seem to understand that if you tax the rich, there’s a level of threshold.’ Apparently the threshold is 50p in 2019 but wasn’t the threshold between 2009-2012. More interesting still, the Guardian report that he previously stated he would give at least 70% of his fortune to charity. So, he isn’t happy about a 50p top rate of tax but is quite happy to give 70% of his entire fortune away.

The rich frequently seek to hold the country to ransom this way. ‘Don’t upset us,’ they threaten, ‘or we’ll leave and the poor will suffer and it will be your fault!’ as if they have no control over the matter. Hardly the sentiments of those who actually care about the poor or the country they frequently claim to love. It is the selfish threat of those most concerned about furthering their own interests.

The reality is that most who claim they will leave rarely go. The Guardian seek to link this posturing to Brexit, at pains to point out that Caudwell campaigned for Leave and favours No-Deal. They readily ignore the fact that the majority of the Remain campaign rested on this very threat for which they now (rightly) censure Caudwell. ‘Don’t vote Leave,’ they repeatedly told us, ‘all the business will go!’ The threat the rich use whenever anybody moots top rate tax rises was the selfsame threat employed by Remain campaigners – including media outlets such as the Guardian – who now decry it.

But I am not primarily here to look at the whys and wherefores of Britain’s progressive taxation system and obligations to pay your taxes. I am more interested in the way that this same attitude frequently rears its head in the church. It can certainly come from those who have big cheques to put into the collection. ‘Don’t upset us,’ they insinuate, ‘we pay your salary and we’re not scared to take our giving down the road.’ It is the same pernicious attitude that seeks to use money to hold the church to ransom.

But it is an attitude that doesn’t only exist in those with money. Those who may be active in service may be convinced that without them the church will fall apart. ‘Don’t upset us,’ they aver, ‘or we’ll go and serve elsewhere and then see how you run things.’ This is the kind of pernicious attitude that tries to leverage influence to hold the church to ransom.

Many assume that bums on seats is the only currency that matters. It matters not whether they are giving, serving or anything else, some believe their very presence is enough of a blessing that we should do as they insist. ‘Don’t upset us’, they aver, ‘or we’ll vote with our feet and go elsewhere.’ This is the kind of pernicious attitude that tries to tap into broader, largely wrongheaded, views of ‘success’ and tries to leverage that to hold the church to ransom.

I’m sure you can think of other such scenarios. Needless to say, I like it as much in billionaires holding the country to ransom as I do members holding their churches to ransom. Just as many suggest that those with big bank accounts can do as they say and leave if their attitude is such that they are willing to threaten everybody that way, so it is often best in the church to tell folks that their attitude is ungodly and ought to change or else they can make good on their threat and leave. Just as it is no advantage to the country to be in hoc to would-be plutocrats who favour their own interests over that of the country, so it is no advantage to the church to be in hoc to those who would favour their own interests over that of the gospel.

It pays to remember that schism is not the only (not even necessarily) a sin. There are worse paths to tread than choosing to divide or excommunicate. I would venture far more churches have been lost to the interests of a few who impede the gospel than have gone under because somebody walked away with their cheque, service or glorious presence. Beware those who would hold the church to ransom – that way disaster lies.