Ed Miliband believes he is onto a winner in attacking big business tax avoiders - even if it is drawing fire from business leaders.
He believes he has the public on his side after it was revealed that the head of Boots, who warned that a Labour win on 7 May would be a “catastrophe”, was a tax exile in Monaco and that Boots’ parent company has been the target of tax avoidance campaigners.
The counter-offensive comes this morning from the Tory peer Stuart Rose, the former head of Marks & Spencer (courtesy of the Daily Mail), and from the former boss of B&Q and the chairman of Heathrow (courtesy of the Daily Telegraph).
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Lord Rose accuses Miliband of “resorting to abuse and personal attacks when people raise genuine concerns” and says Labour has “blown apart” a political consensus about the need to nurture business.
In defending the rights of the Boots boss, Stefano Pessina, to say what he thinks about the Labour Party, Rose points out that almost half of the chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies are not British. “Why should they be disqualified from speaking about matters which are directly their concern?” he asks.
The Daily Telegraph quotes ex-B&Q boss Sir Ian Cheshire saying: “He [Mr Pessina] has got a right to say it - and frankly personal attacks are pretty unattractive.”
While Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of Heathrow, adds: “We should listen to all opinions especially people who have created as many jobs and are as astute as Stefano Pessina.”
It amounts to a stand-off that goes to the heart of the general election campaign. The Tories accuse Miliband of being “anti-business” and want to pin on him Pessina’s accusation that it would be “catastrophic” for economy, jobs and the livelihoods of millions of voters, if Miliband gets the keys to Number Ten.
Yet Cameron conveniently forgets that two years ago he was warning companies that avoid paying their fair share of taxes in Britain to “wake and smell the coffee”. He’s also not mentioning that there’s a real chance Britain will vote to leave the EU if the Tories win the election and stand by their referendum promise. And yet almost all business leaders – Pessina included – are appalled at the prospect of Britain leaving Europe.
Miliband, meanwhile, is plugging into deep-seated anger among voters that some of the big household names in business - Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Boots - avoid paying big tax bills here because they are registered abroad.
The Labour leader’s simple message is that if only more big businesses paid more of their taxes in Britain from the profits they earn in this country, we would be able to afford the improvements that services such as the NHS so desperately need.
This morning, Miliband is given more ammunition by revelation in The Times that the leather goods and luxury stationery firm Smythson, which employs Samantha Cameron as a creative consultant, “upped sticks” in 2010 to the tax haven of Luxembourg.
As The Times reports, the news is “an embarrassment to the Prime Minister, who has made clamping down on tax avoidance a feature of his premiership”.
Just for the record, Smythson’s holding company is called Greenwill SA, incorporated in Luxembourg. The company is ultimately controlled by Ogier Trustee (Jersey) Limited as Trustees of The Barracuda Trust, a trust settled in Guernsey.
Try fitting that above the door of Smythson’s flagship store on New Bond Street.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.