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Why Ed Miliband Can't Afford to Boycott Amazon

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Ed Miliband's interview in Grazia has a fair bit of good gossip concerning a man not many people are tempted to gossip about.

There is, however, one particular nugget that struck me. Ed admits that at the top of his Christmas list is a Kindle Fire. It's all about the brand loyalty you see - apparently he has been reading away on his Kindle in his spare time and wants the latest version.

The problem is that Ed has just admitted that he is putting money into the coffers of Amazon - a company identified as a legal tax avoider and which many members of his party (and others) have promised to boycott. If it's up to people like him, there will be no need for the online retailer to follow the example of Starbucks, which has promised to increase the amount of tax they pay after the public outcry. When Justine goes shopping for her husband, she will be sending the money abroad, not helping to pay for the NHS.

The thing is, though, who can really blame him? Amazon's stranglehold on us is so strong that it's become near-impossible to break free. With Starbucks, it's easy enough to go into the coffee shop down the road, but if you want to buy books online, Amazon is by far the easiest place to do it. Even forgetting the fact that its algorithms (and unforgiving stance towards publishers) ensure that it's cheaper than the competition, for people in busy jobs it's much easier to click at your desk than go shopping in person, however preferable an experience a real-life browse in Daunt can be.

This is all the more so when it comes to e-books. There is literally no way for traditional retailers to compete, when buying an Amazon device ensures that you have to keep shopping with them. No wonder that Ed doesn't want to squander his back catalogue of e-books by choosing to go elsewhere.

What we should take from all this is not just that Ed might think a little harder next time he hands out his Christmas list - after all, it's not just Santa who's reading it. More importantly, his experience shows why tackling tax avoiders is a job for government, not for individuals.

Public pressure may have impacted on a high-street retailer like Starbucks, but the impact on Amazon and Google will be far less marked. CEOs are under a duty to chase profits, and will keep exploiting tax loopholes as long as it suits their business bottom line to do so. Our way of life is too tied in to Amazon and Google to simply let go, and so they will continue to use the legal methods of avoidance that have served their shareholders so well. Only a change to the tax laws can finally get them to pay up.