Quiet Bloodletting: Tax Avoidance and the LadBaby Distraction

A stylized image of Ladbaby, a UK video blogger.

It’s 2022, and the UK has 4.3 million children in poverty and 49% of children in lone parent households are amongst that number. Many of them during the height of the pandemic had their free school dinners revoked. After campaigning by football player Marcus Rashford, the government U-turned on this decision, only to send out a “week” of those dinners that in reality were “Two potatoes, one tin of baked beans, eight single cheese slices, two carrots, three apples, two bananas, one small bag of penne, one tomato, three Frubes, two Soreens and a loaf of sliced bread”.

The scandal of one year can be old hat by the next, and completely forgotten by the one after. This is the case with the school dinners fiasco, which embroiled the UK government in early 2021 and is now almost completely forgotten about. The necessary thrust for writing politics can be in how it connotes a larger systemic inadequacy, or act of deliberate machination. And despite UK politics being a narrow niche, you feel compelled to untangle the web.

This article is a portrait of the apparatus UK democracy has assembled – an apparatus in which by covertly cutting services and tightening purse strings the government creates an urgent problem in living standards, and then seems to solve this crisis. However, the solution is worse than the original service, funded by charity/private sector companies, and often owned by Conservative affiliates. This is with the intention of tax-dodging on an enormous scale. The government then obfuscate this underhanded switch by publishing high-profile scandal and policy, ad infinitum. Then follows the inevitable sacrifice of a hapless Minister for Health and Social Care, or Education, and the damage is never undone, justice served.

What this amounts to is a complete stripping of the state’s resources used for helping the vulnerable, shunting them on to dehumanising procedures, and the robbery of taxation that would fund those resources. One example is in 2011, when the coalition between the Conservative government and the Liberal Democrats trialled – and then implemented – a scheme in which interest-free crisis loans and discretionary payments from councils were replaced by vouchers for Trussell Trust foodbanks. A cost-cutting measure during a time of brutal austerity of services, this is now standard practice. The financially vulnerable are no longer trusted with money – instead they take what they are given.

The difference in perception is obvious – food vouchers, like America’s food-stamps, can easily be twisted into a form of derision for the less fortunate and become common vernacular for the hateful to demean with. Taking a discretionary amount of money to assist during difficult times retains the autonomy of the individual and their privacy, but the idea of being given a voucher to prevent starvation is patently designed to humiliate. This is part of the psychological game the Conservative government plays – by making social welfare more arduous to get access to, and when it’s gotten making it humiliate, they are keeping money in their pockets. A similar example is the monstrous “hostile environment” for immigrants seeking asylum, a policy the current government has always been passionately in favour of.

Working class culture in the UK is generally averse to state-funded benefits, whipped up into a frenzy by the partisan rags on the newspaper stand. Common parlance in headlines is “scroungers” “sticking their hands out”. The most extreme examples are the only case studies given, or out-of-context figures that inflate the size of the problem in public perception. This ingrains a “work hard for your money” mentality, which allows corporate employers to engineer more manipulative contracts – inadequate employee benefits packages, 0-hours contracts, competition for shifts. By creating a sentiment in Generation X of “I’d rather die than be on jobseekers’”, employers can get away with unremitting exploitation. The blame lies not only with the Murdoch media empire, but also our own home-grown fascista.

Viscount Rothermere – like a large chunk of the Conservative party – is an aristocrat and inheritor of vast wealth. His wealth is protected by an obscure set of tax legislation around “tax exiles”. A tax exile as defined by the Oxford dictionary (a subject they presumably know very well) is “a person with a high income or considerable wealth who chooses to live in a country or area with low rates of tax”. Meaning, despite being an English aristocrat who lives most of the year in his palatial estate in England, Viscount Rothermere is a French citizen and is taxed as such. He inherited that status from his father, who to be fair did reside in France, presumably due to its favourable rates of taxation. This theme of tax-dodging is really what the whole of British society is modelled to enable – our government is a machine, a conveyor belt of greasy palms, and those palms are attached to a group of the same archetype of person unilaterally – wealthy, privileged, and they probably knew each-other in private school.

Rothermere’s newspaper the Daily Mail is anti-immigration, anti-benefits and generally just anti-Labour. We might ask why this is its ideological stance, and the well-trodden and simplest answer is that the Big Business supports the Low Corporate Tax party. By creating a caustic atmosphere within discourse, coupled with the rise of social media’s algorithms radicalising the populace, it’s now much easier to delude the public with promises of solutions to these rage-inducing soundbites and headlines, and distract them from the reality of the national condition. This is the nature of corruption universally – it masquerades as a hardline solution to real problems, but as we’ve seen through the lens of benefits it’s often the cause. Then it portrays the cause as so monumental it’d be a waste of time to bother, and people from exposure to the same lines day in and day out start to innately believe it.

The Trussell Trust was founded by well-meaning people, and quickly adopted and contorted by a Conservative party peer. By the time of the 2011 trial scheme, it had passed into the hands of a Labour affiliate, though he himself was linked to a campaigning firm called the Shaftesbury Partnership with heavy Conservative backing. Other principal stakeholders in Shaftesbury were Nat Wei and a few others, policy doctors for the Conservative government’s “Big Society” legislative agenda. This was under David Cameron, famous former Prime Minister and current Greensill lobby corpo. His association is immediately a red-flag, as he is known to be of the “greasing our mates’ palms” culture at the heart of Downing Street. Also, he probably had sex with a pig.

The “Big Society” was a hare-brained attempt at justifying the severe cuts in public spending – by devolving key decision making to the regional level they were almost taking a step in the right direction, but inevitably local councils were competing for too small a bag of cash. The idea of the “Big Society” other than small government and deregulated markets was to fund social welfare programs through “volunteerism”, essentially saying the third-sector (charitable orgs) would carry all of the burden by also bidding for government funding.

In this bid for government funding in supplicating welfare for the state, somehow The Trussell Trust, a haven of parliamentary chums, peers and ministers – with a direct link to the architect of the Big Society – somehow ended up becoming the main player in the game. That is the case to this day. A state that cannot care for its most vulnerable members is not fit for purpose, and charities are renowned for their tax-exempt methods for the mega-rich to move their money about. That isn’t necessarily the case with the Trussell Trust, but it’s setting a dangerous precedent and leaving these loopholes wide open if not.

Out of all this mess shambles a YouTuber and blogger, Mark “LadBaby” Hoyle. Hoyle’s oeuvre combines budgeting and life-hacks with the aim of giving working parents cheap alternatives to babywear and accessories. Such innovative ideas include making a lunchbox from an old toolbox, a baby gate from half of a shed door and probably rubber floaties from old tractor tires. While the aim is nice, it’s all a bit performative. LadBaby himself was a graphic designer and has an auspicious LinkedIn, so he likely doesn’t understand the realities of working people. Someone working 50 hours a week with a two hour commute every day isn’t likely to be constructing a baby-bottle from an old bottle of Gordon’s gin on their rest day.

He quickly gained attention due to his Jack the Lad, cheeky personality. While it’s almost certain none of his viewers have ever actionably tried his tips practically, in the era of content regularity and charisma is all you need. Where he enters the story is that somehow, he’s been the Christmas No. 1 single four years consecutively, despite the music he produces being fucking terrible. His four no. 1’s are ‘parodies’ of famous dad-rock songs repurposed to be about the foodstuff sausage rolls. The reason they are so successful and pervasive is their charitable bent – while LadBaby has never been transparent with the figures, a large section of the income on these figures goes to a charity. You can imagine who it is.

The Trussell Trust have been seeing enormous proceeds from this single presumably – once again, the transparency is lacking, but a No. 1 single still racks up a decent profit margin. This is the morally complicated part of criticising – from what we’ve learned so far, raising money for the Trust is essentially emboldening the ruthless cutting down of the social safety net, but on the reverse side it is demonstrably feeding those in poverty. LadBaby’s motivations become suspect.

In a dispute with novelty band The Kunts, Hoyle’s chief competitor for this year’s No. 1 spot, clapped back after Hoyle criticised their single’s title “Boris Johnson is Still a F****ing C***t” by saying “it takes a certain type of person to download a song with THAT title”. The frontman of the band responded by essentially saying “what sort of person expands their profile through the hunger of children”. It’s an argument that is valid, as LadBaby’s visibility is keyed directly to his profits – such is internet celebrity and the desperate harvesting of clicks and consumer interaction. LadBaby commented that they keep meaning to never do another Christmas single, but “the problem keeps getting worse and worse”.

But here’s another bit of tenuous ground, as the problem invariably will continue to get worse, as when the Trussell Trust is successfully distributing food vouchers to those in financial need, the government will feel less and less pressure to fund the welfare system. Nobody is suggesting that we allow those in poverty to starve, and that’s a defensive shield in front of this abhorrent misappropriation of the state’s responsibilities onto charities. Our society in Britain is anathema to preventative solutions. This can be found in the terrible culture of crisis response in mental health services, our cack-handed response to the pandemic, the Brexit fiasco, and to the starving of our young.

In rallying the national morale against this effect, a crisis of poverty and inadequate conditions for living, and refusing to ever be political enough to properly attribute blame, LadBaby can only realistically be furthering his profile. Or he is one of those people living in the flicker of their own lives, unable to see any cause or understand it, but regardless he is still taking the conscious action to further his career. Meanwhile, he acts as a convenient mesmer over the real issue – a dancing jester in his jumpsuit printed with sausage rolls – pouring the public sentiment into temporary salves as opposed to large-scale reform. This is due to a culture of passivity within the national character – where other countries might riot, we are conditioned to quickly accept the new reality of things. Maybe these are Thatcherite scars on the national consciousness, or maybe things have become too chaotic to see beyond the pattern’s intersections.

Maybe this all seems too speculative, but it shows the lack of faith in the moral character of our leaders that regardless it seems all too plausible. The current government, a continuation of the same renowned sleaze of the Cameron era, have been embroiled in scandal for selling large-scale PPE contracts to their friends, employing associates from their 2019 election campaign as “special advisers” on extortionate salaries, and continually defying the pandemic measures that they themselves drafted for us to follow. They are trying to separate the government’s coffers from the consequences of their actions – by continually ensuring money is drained from our national reserves by their friends and business associates in avoided tax, and by paying for this service with the lives of their economically vulnerable constituents.

London has become the beating heart of organised crime in Europe – a combination of low corporate taxation, lack of fiscal scrutiny of the wealthy and devolved regions with competitive rates of levy has allowed it to become a smouldering pit for the corrupt lining their pockets. There can only be so much drained from our economy by this avoidance before we completely implode. The problem is attributed to immigrants and benefits scroungers, and this emboldens these dehumanising practices – but the populace feel good about it as long as the jester keeps dancing, and the engine of hatred keeps rumbling, while the cost of living climbs inexorably higher.

* * *

If you enjoyed this take on UK democracy, taxation, and LadBaby’s connection to it all, check out the automachination YouTube channel and the ArtiFact Podcast. Recent episodes include a debunking of Internet sciolists such as Jordan B. Peterson and Christopher Langana breakdown of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, and a long discussion of photography from Alfred Stieglitz to Fan Ho and Vivian Maier.

More from Marc Magill: Fastidious Vice: On Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), How the World Rots: “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai” by Jim Jarmusch (1999)On Stimulation: “Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance” by Godfrey Reggio (1982)

Tagged with: