Billy Bragg takes his fight to limit RBS bonuses to Speakers' Corner
Billy Bragg delivers his speech from a stepladder in Hyde Park yesterday morning. The musician and activist is refusing to pay income tax as part of his protest Picture: PA
So when musician and political activist Billy Bragg yesterday took his place at Speakers' Corner in London, calling for a cap on RBS fat-cat bonuses, it probably did not come as much of a surprise.
Bragg, whose albums include Talking with the Taxman about Poetry in 1986, is refusing to pay his taxes unless Chancellor Alistair Darling limits bonus payments at RBS to 25,000.
Yesterday he took a step-ladder to the famous Hyde Park forum of free speech to outline why he was taking this view to a crowd of up to 200 people.
He said not paying his tax was not something he took lightly, and not simply because of the 100 fine he would receive immediately after last night's deadline.
"To me, paying my income tax is an expression of social solidarity, a means of making a contribution to the common good," he said.
Bragg said he was driven to take a stand after hearing evidence to the Commons Treasury select committee by Stephen Hester, the chief executive of RBS, which is 84 per cent owned by the taxpayer.
"Our elected representatives asked Mr Hester how he could justify paying an estimated 1.5 billion in bonuses to his staff when the bank had been so recently bailed out by public funds. He replied that there was nothing he could do about it, as he was 'a prisoner of the market'."
Bragg said he understood why RBS had to be bailed out by the government, but not why excessive bonuses still had to be paid.
After his speech, Bragg said he had enjoyed himself. He said: "It was something I have never done before. It was a good little crowd, and lots of support – ordinary working people who wanted to do something about this issue.."
Bragg's campaign – No Bonus For RBS – has attracted more than 25,000 supporters on social networking site Facebook. He said: "There are a lot of people who feel very angry about the idea of paying bonuses to bankers who have borrowed a huge amount of money from us which they have yet to pay back. They seem to think it is business as usual."
An RBS spokesman declined to comment on Bragg's speech.
A Treasury spokeswoman said: "It is wrong to suggest that taxpayer money will be spent on big bonuses at RBS."
THE ULTIMATE SOAPBOX
FOR more than 150 years, the opinionated from far and wide have been coming to Speaker's Corner to air their views to whoever wants to listen.
The platform was first introduced in 1866 in response to riots the previous decade where a staggering 250,000 people gathered to protest against the Sunday trading bill.
The area, at the point where London's Oxford Street and Hyde Park meet, is now at its busiest on Sundays when, armed with a soapbox or step ladder, speakers can have their say – to a large crowd or just one man walking his dog.
Speakers require no qualification or invitation, with popular topics for debate including politics, religion and current affairs.
Some of the most well-known speakers at the park have been Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell and William Morris.
Similar Speakers' Corners have also been introduced in other countries, promoting freedom of speech around the world.
The tradition which has developed from Speakers' Corner has been echoed in the "soapbox" method of canvassing in modern political campaigns.