There's one aspect of Starbucks tax-dodging that hasn't had the attention it should. To see it, ask: who loses when multinationals don't pay tax? The answer is not just the Exchequer, but the small businesses competing with the big firms. The independent cafe owner competing with Starbucks is already at a disadvantage because Starbucks size allows it to bear losses and to buy in bulk. Starbucks' tax-dodging gives it a further edge - because in retaining more of its cash, Starbucks can more easily open new stores, taking custom from the independent cafe. Similarly, independent booksellers who do pay tax are disadvantaged when Amazon doesn't.
You would therefore expect the backlash against multinationals tax-dodging to come not just from lefty moralizers, but from supporters of small businesses.
But I haven't been deafened by such complaints. To those of us whose outlook was formed in the 80s, this is weird. The Tories then claimed to be the party of small business: Thatcher never lost a chance to remind us she was a grocer's daughter.
And, ideologically, Conservatives have alleged that there is an affinity between them and small business. Thatcher claimed that such businesses "embody freedom and independence". And David Willetts wrote in the early 90s that:
Modern conservatism aims to reconcile free markets (which deliver freedom and prosperity) with a recognition of the importance of community (which sustains our values) (Modern Conservativism, p92)
And aren't cafe and bookshop owners pillars of local communities?
Which poses the question. Why, then, aren't today's Tories so angry about the threat to small businesses posed by the multinationals? Surely, many small businesses are threatened more by multinationals' ability to use their tax-dodging to expand than they are by employment protection laws. So why the silence? (It's not just multinationals' tax-dodging where Tories are surprisingly quiet; I got the impression they were equivocal when farmers complained about supermarkets using their buying power to drive prices down.)
It's not because small businesses are less numerous now than they were in Thatcher's day. Quite the opposite. Since 1987, the numbers of self-employed have risen by one-third, much faster than the growth in employment generally. You'd therefore expect politicians to speak more about the interests of independent sole proprietors than they did in the 80s. But it seems they speak less.
This is a puzzle. I mean, it can't be that the Tories were never sincere about being the party of small business, and only ever used such talk as a front for being the party of big business, can it?
* It seems that, in Starbucks' case, tax-dodging has recently been a bad business strategy, but this is because of lefty customers boycotting it, which only emphasizes the puzzle that the right is no longer the party of small business.