12 Feb 2015

Miliband – the cat that got the vanilla cream

I am at Ed Miliband’s old school in North London as he spells out his vision for education. He’s linking the tax avoidance issue he attacked David Cameron on yesterday to school spending – weaponising it, if you will.

The country won’t be able to to afford better schools if there’s rampant tax avoidance, the argument goes.

It doesn’t look like he’ll be spending the election in a libel court. Lord Fink seems to have decided not to go down that route, and instead to fess up to some “vanilla” tax avoidance in an interview with the Evening Standard

Maybe he’d decided word of the trusts set up for his children would come out anyway. His libel threat, he says, was triggered by Ed Miliband’s specific suggestion that he used his Swiss HSBC account for tax avoidance.

But Ed Miliband didn’t have to tip-toe round the awkwardness of repeating that today because Lord Fink provided him with quotes like “everyone does tax avoidance at some level.”

Ed Miliband’s team knew this would drown out the pledges in the campaign grid for today on school spending class sizes, but Ed Miliband gave that speech anyway.

The audience, which included some of his old teachers, weren’t best pleased about the media questions (mine included) about tax avoidance and jeered that an education policy occasion was being “hijacked.”

But this was a hijacking choreographed with glee by the leadership of the party they support.

They think they’ve hit another seam of life that reveals the unfairness at the heart of the country, a story that captures their big message.

They stuck with the accusations against Lord Fink, even though they’d had no time to research them for themselves in the 30 minutes or so between the story dropping on the Guardian website and Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.

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Will it swing votes?

Ed Miliband hopes it plays into his “them and us,” “super-rich versus the rest of us” narratives.

His team say their focus groups suggest when voters are asked about his qualities he is seen as “courageous,” “decent.” But my own anecdotal evidence on the streets of English marginals and supposedly safe Labour seats is that Ed Miliband is seen by some traditional Labour voters as a bit posh himself.

Maybe it’s the voice, the academic bearing.

Rafael Behr wrote yesterday about his inability to fill essentially damage limitation answers with plausible guff.

An old teacher of his, Kate Myers, who was at the school today to listen to him, said she wished he showed more of the humour he showed in abundance when he was younger and that she felt he rather kept it hidden.

See Gary’s 11 February report on the parliamentary row over tax secrecy:

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6 reader comments

  1. Roger Broadbent says:

    What on earth has vanilla got to do with tax avoidance?Can someone please explain Fink’s extraordinaru use of the English Language ?

  2. MaryPery says:

    This report is written by a reporter who was educated at an exclusive private school and then Oxford. I wonder with whom his sympathies lie?

  3. peterthepainter says:

    When I hear Ed Miliband ranting about tax avoidance I wonder just how stupid he thinks we all are.
    Tax avoidance is legal. It is sensible. In many instances it is actively encouraged – reduced VED on smaller cars, so change to a smaller car to pay less tax.
    The big problem is the complexity of the UK tax code, the largest in the world.
    Who was involved, with his boss Gordon Brown, in establishing this disaster?
    The two Eds.
    They simply don’t get it……reduce and simplify the tax system and people pay more tax.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      You may find that the US Tax Code is even longer. That’s just the Federal Code. Add that to any one of the fifty States and you’ll have a whole library of codes stretching far further than the UK’s.

      Tax is complicated, because it tries to be fair. Simples makes it grossly unfair.

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    There’s more to come.
    Superannuated Major Duncan Smith (rtd.) is also in the House of Commons superannuation scheme. So he won’t have paid 1.4% extra National Insurance Contributions (NIC) out of his pay that millions of workers do. Nor will the Army or House of Commons have paid the extra 3.4% employer’s NIC on his pay, because he has two ‘contracted out’ superannuations.
    So Major Ian Duncan Smith probably isn’t affected by any loss of the SERPS pension others have contributed towards. He’s alright, Jack!
    The SERPS pension the Tories are stealing from millions of workers (and their employers) who have also contributed extra NIC – on the solemn Government promise that they’ll get the pension they’ve paid into by order of the Law – that’s being abolished. And replaced by the same NI pension Major Duncan Smith will get without any extra NI contributions.
    Instead of getting a full UK State pension that the Thatcher Government had cut it back to – and promised solemnly to provide, they’ll get the much lower Major Duncan Smith NI pension.
    What’s the difference, you may wonder?
    Well, next year the full Basic and SERPS pension is £200.83 per week (£10,443 pa). SERPS contributors will now get just the standard £154 per week. That’s a cut of almost a quarter in their pension.

    Is it theft? Is it some kind of ‘avoidance’ procedure those tax-avoiders might use? Maybe Channel Four knows which?

  5. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    So it’s only sour cream after all?
    :-)

    Still, I can forgive you almost anything – even those “posh” plummy speaking tones – because you do your job better than most, and FAR better than, say, Sky/Fox News.

    As for tax “avoidance,” the neocons in Westminster, Whitehall and Canary Wharf will ensure their pals continue to trouser thieved wealth and don’t get their collars felt. It’s what they do.

    Keep up the good work.

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