Fiona McCade: My Starbucks pleasure is now overshadowed by tax guilt

Starbucks: guilty pleasure?
Starbucks: guilty pleasure?
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SO THERE I was, standing in the cold outside Starbucks. Wondering… Until a couple of weeks ago, the only thing I wondered about Starbucks was whether the Starbucks mermaid was in any way related to the Oil of Olay lady.

I mean, they look so alike, surely there must be some connection? But although I’ve spent many a happy hour musing over that one, out there on the freezing pavement, it was the last thing on my mind.

Granted, there were no protesters outside this particular branch of the Temple of Milky Coffee, stopping me going in. Only my conscience stood between me and the object of my deepest and most desperate pre-Christmas desires: the best red cup of them all – an Egg Nog Latte.

Usually, the advent of the Starbucks red cups gets me all excited. Christmas is coming! And I celebrate with an Egg Nog Latte – or five – until the big day arrives and then I struggle through the year as best I can, until red cup season comes around again. It’s a simple little pleasure, but a treasured one.

Unfortunately, this year it’s all been ruined, just ruined. My simple little pleasure is now a guilty one.

First, it emerged Starbucks hadn’t paid corporation tax in years, despite total sales of £3 billion, because they said they hadn’t made any taxable profits. So people started boycotting them and protesting outside Starbucks branches. Then Starbucks said, OK, we’ll voluntarily give the Treasury £10 million a year, but the boycotters still say it’s not enough, and anyway Starbucks should have thought earlier about how bad all this would make them look.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is backing the boycott. Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the Westminster public accounts committee, says companies who have managed not to pay UK tax should be named and shamed (politicians criticising freeloaders – priceless!).

People are furious; people are vengeful; and there I am, gazing wistfully through the window, wondering, if I go in will a huge crowd of angry protesters suddenly appear from nowhere and start pelting me with half-full Costa coffee cups?

It’s a 21st-century, First World dilemma of the highest order. If I buy an Egg Nog Latte, will I be single-handedly aiding the worst recession of modern times?

It’s a toughie. Do I believe in fair taxation? Yes. Do I want an Egg Nog Latte? YES! And do I believe that by going without my Egg Nog Latte, I am making the world a better place?

Well, to be honest, no, I don’t.

The fact is, when it comes to stuff I believe in, I’m a natural boycotter. I’ve boycotted meat since I was 16. I shop as ethically as I know how. I’m absolutely up for making hopeless, ineffectual stands on points of pure principle. Trouble is, in this case, I honestly don’t think Starbucks have done anything wrong.

Like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, eBay and Jimmy Carr, Starbucks don’t owe any tax in the UK. They have been operating within the law. It’s the ludicrous UK tax system that’s at fault here, because it hasn’t asked them for any money. How is it that just because successive, equally feckless UK governments have failed to work out a half-decent way to demand tax from the mega-rich, I – who pay all my taxes, like a good citizen – am not allowed to enjoy my yearly Egg Nog Latte?

I want to be onside with the little people, really I do, but if the big people haven’t actually committed a crime, I simply can’t bring myself to jump on a very rickety moral bandwagon just for the sake of it. Besides, Egg Nog Lattes only come once a year and they’re so very, very nice. But of course, fair’s fair, everyone should pay their way…

Standing outside the coffee-house, my inner debate raged on. Crusade against the injustice of Starbucks’ tax status… or have an Egg Nog Latte? Crusade against injustice… or Egg Nog Latte? Crusade… or latte? Crusade… or latte?

“One Venti Egg Nog Latte to go, please. But can you put it in a plain, brown bag?”