Despite the political thunderstorm that the UK is currently stumbling through, a fantastic piece of legislation called the “Taxes for Peace Bill” is being put forward by Labour MP Ruth Cadbury. This Bill is an extension of the right to conscientiously object to being involved with military action which was introduced in the 1916 Military Service Act and is now part of our human rights. In short, it would allow taxpayers to choose whether some of their tax goes to the Military or goes into already existing non-military conflict prevention programs.
In the past wars were a matter of manpower, hence forced conscription in almost all European Countries during the First and Second World War. Now, in the 21st Century wars are won through superior technology which relies on the amount of money at a military’s disposal. In the UK, the average person has “an annual contribution of around £1,200 per taxpayer for military activity.” Civilians no longer contribute to a war effort through manpower, but with their taxes. “We are, as taxpayers, conscripted to pay for some of the most lethal military equipment in the world.” So naturally, a modern day extension of the right to conscientiously object, is the right to refuse to financially contribute to the military.
Our current plan to prevent conflict is to have a large and expensive military as opposed to actually preventing conflict and has failed miserably, as recently illustrated by the Chilcot report. In simple terms, carrying a bigger stick is not going to stop everyone hitting each other with slightly smaller sticks. Using diplomatic means to prevent conflict would save soldiers and civilians from the horrors of war and is far more economically viable. Currently, we spend a ridiculous and irresponsible amount of money on the military, “in 2013 for every £1 spent on peacebuilding over £100 was spent on military activity.” Military money is often spent on incredibly expensive equipment and operations that produce little results, for example, two US drone strikes cost $2.5 Million, which alternatively could fund a “two-year conflict management course training 1,600 Iraqi mediators.” There are a lot of instances where the military does humanitarian work, and I applaud that, but that is not their purpose and that is not where the focus of military funds are aimed. I personally would prefer a society where our foreign policy was aimed at preventing conflict and making the world more secure, as opposed to being one of the main causes of conflict.
The Chilcot report highlighted a severe lack of transparency when it comes to government decision making over military action. The Taxes for Peace bill would decrease the amount of funds the government has at its disposal to wage war which would discourage governments from getting involved with unnecessary conflict. Additionally, it would encourage transparency, as the Government would have to make a case to the taxpayer that the military action in question is justified in order to fund it.
The potential issue with the Bill is it could set a precedent for not contributing tax to certain institutions on political grounds. For example, a neoliberal could argue that their tax should not go to state schools and the NHS on the grounds that it violates their core political beliefs. This argument doesn’t hold water on a legal basis, as there is already a precedent that sets the right to conscientiously object on a moral basis outside of the political debate. Therefore, it would not necessarily set a precedent for people to object to paying certain taxes, on political grounds, although it should be pointed out the lack of control over where our taxes go is indicative of a deeply flawed representative democracy.
I’m sure many a conservative is pulling their hair out over the potential administration costs, but the reality is very little would have to be changed. There are already taxes that are allocated to certain programs, such as Gift Aid or the Sugar Tax and there are already conflict prevention programs that exist. Funnelling taxes away from the military and towards conflict prevention programs would require minimal extra administration costs and the money spent on conflict prevention would go further than if the money was spent on the military.
I personally support this Bill wholeheartedly, especially in light of the Chilcot report damning over half of Parliament and their decision to go to war in Iraq. It is unlikely to be passed in Parliament as a private members bill, but hopefully, it will be a policy that is adopted by progressive parties and implemented when they are in government. Irrespective of this, please email your MP asking them to support this Bill when Ruth Cadbury puts to a vote in the House of Commons.