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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