Ed Miliband was brushed aside by David Cameron and shouted down by Tory MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. Yet the Tory election team is clearly worried that the Labour leader is achieving an electoral advantage by tackling head-on the Conservatives’ “unholy alliance” with the super-rich.
Cameron simply refused to answer Miliband’s question about why there was a loophole allowing hedge funds to avoid paying stamp duty on their share transactions.
"It's costing hundreds of millions of pounds,” said Miliband. “You have been funded to the tune of £47 million by the hedge funds. Everyone knows that's why you are refusing to act but what is your explanation?"
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Instead of answering, the PM grabbed the chance to ridicule shadow chancellor Ed Balls for forgetting the surname of a Labour-supporting businessman, Bill Thomas, during Tuesday’s Newsnight interview. Tory backbenchers swung into action – clearly rehearsed – chanting “Bill, Bill” and “Where’s Bill?”
So much for Cameron’s pious hope of raising the standard of PMQs when he spoke to teenagers earlier this week.
As the yaboos of PMQs die down, the worry for Cameron and his election strategist, Lynton Crosby, is that Miliband may be succeeding in fixing the idea in voters’ minds that the Tories are the party for the financially loaded – many of whom share responsibility for the 2008 banking crash - leaving Labour to represent the rest.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, last night added his voice to the chorus of complaints against corporations and their bosses avoiding paying their fair share of tax to the Exchequer.
“There has always been the principle that you pay the tax where you earn the money and if you earn the money in a particular country the revenue service of that country needs to get a fair share of what you have earned.”
And Boris Johnson is surely not the only Tory uneasy about where all this is going. Speaking on LBC Radio this week, he said of Miliband’s row with the Monaco-based Boots boss Stefano Pessina: “I have to say I find it a little disappointing that he doesn't cough up for Britain.”
But then there’s the second point that Miliband raised - that the Tories are apparently profiting from the stamp duty loophole because hedge funders have rewarded them with £47 million worth of donations to the party.
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Immediately after PMQs, Labour released further research showing 27 of the 59 wealthiest hedge fund managers in the Sunday Times Rich List have personally donated – or seen their fund donate – more than £19m to the Conservative war chest to win the election.
The Guardian reports that the most generous donors are Sir Michael Hintze, head of the CQS fund, who has donated £3.2m to the Tories, and Lord Fink, the head of the Mayfair-based ISAM hedge fund, who has given £3.1m.
The Financial Times takes the issue further this morning, reporting that there has been a “step change” in the number of City financiers donating money to the Tories.
The paper says it marks a definite shift from the traditional business and manufacturing donors, epitomised by the family of the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony Bamford who have given an estimated £3.8m to the Tories in this parliament. The FT estimates that eight City financiers have given a total of £12.2m to the Tories in this parliament.
Cameron is calculating that by accusing Miliband of being “anti-business” he can scare middle-class voters who are looking to the Tories to restore the economy.
But Miliband has scored well with the public in the past by standing up to vested interests – in particular criticising the Murdoch organisation over phone hacking – and appears to relish the fight.
As the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson said yesterday on the Daily Politics: “Ed Miliband believes that if the argument is not about business but about bad business and bad business practices – about tax avoidance above all – then he’s on winning turf.”
Robinson added another thought: "One of the most potent phrases in an election campaign is, 'Who's side are you on?' Ed Miliband has always believed this would get him to Number Ten - 'I'm on the side of the right people'."
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