IR35? An unsympathetic Government? Tests that might not work? 2012? No 1999. A new book ‘Freedom to Freelance’ has been published by Philip Ross that tells the story of the formation of the IR35 and the early ground breaking and pioneering campaign that was fought against it. It was one of the first true internet campaigns and was ground breaking in its use of the new technology and on-line communities.
The events are chronicled by Philip Ross who was one of the founder members of the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) and its first Director of External Affairs. As such he is uniquely positioned to tell the story from the inside – with the highs and the lows, the successes and failures, the conflicts and the characters.
Throughout the book, he draws parallels with other revolutions throughout history, from its brave and bold beginnings to the final stages when the revolution turned on the revolutionaries.
In the early stages, contractors banded together against a common enemy, IR35. This story dates from 1999, when discussion forums were in their infancy and technology as a means of communication was the domain of geeks and IT experts – the very people who the Government had targeted with IR35. Many of these contractors were at the cutting edge of technology and their communication method of choice was the internet. Their campaign and mode of operation were pushing back the barriers for the innovative use of technology on an almost daily basis.
Philip tells the story of the birth of the Professional Contractors Group, (the PCG), Britain’s first online trade association, which battled the Inland Revenue over IR35 and then the Home Office over the issue of Work Permits. It would win over the House of Lords who controversially reject the IR35 proposals, it would organise the first ever 'flash mob' to lobby Parliament and then be the first to present an e-petition, the group would pressure the BBC’s flagship political programme Newsnight into transmitting an apology on air for getting its facts wrong, they would take the Government all the way to the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and grow their organisation from zero to thousands in a matter of weeks.
Philip explores the online revolution and the figures who had the vision to lead it and pursue it. As is often the case with revolutions, the group turned on itself – and those leading figures were ultimately replaced by more establishment characters and attempts were made at rewriting history.
The book has therefore proved popular with political scientists and social scientists looking at the births of new media. As well as with the contractors who were part of it and are affected by it.
In short ‘Freedom to Freedom’ tells the story not just of the fight against a tax measure but a contemporary and gripping tale of a birth of internet campaigning, which try as it might through on-line forums and sophisticated tools cannot escape its destiny to be a classic human tale.