Miliband’s smart move on bank bonuses

The Labour leader’s call for an extended bonus tax is good politics and good economics.

Ed Miliband's decision to call for the extension of the tax on bankers' bonuses is good politics and good economics. At a time when ministers are backing away from a confrontation with the banks, Miliband has seized an opportunity to win favourable headlines. The coalition will struggle to oppose him without implying, as Peter Mandelson once put it, that the rich have "suffered enough" (not a popular political message in these straitened times).

So long as the banks refuse to show pay restraint, it makes sense for the government to raise some much-needed revenue. Alistair Darling's original 50 per cent tax on bonuses over £25,000 raised £3.5bn, four times more than the government originally forecast. By contrast, the coalition's bank levy is expected to raise just £1.25bn. Miliband's suggestion that now is the wrong time to be "cutting taxes for the banks" will resonate with voters suffering the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1970s.

It's worth adding that Darling's tax did not lead to an "exodus" from the City of London. An analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the gap with other jurisdictions was not wide enough to justify a move out of London. As the FT's report noted:

[A] married banker with two children, one of them aged under six, with gross income of £250,000 and a mortgage of £750,000, would net £141,000 in the UK, after deductions for tax and social security, according to PwC's calculations. In Geneva, that same employee would take home about £156,000, 11 per cent more.

The gap with other European financial centres and the US is significantly smaller. The same worker would net £150,000 in Paris, £149,000 in Frankfurt and £145,000 in New York . . . While the tax hit becomes much more significant among top earners, such as those earning in excess of £1m, it is difficult for senior bankers and traders to relocate in isolation, without more junior employees on their team or support functions.

Miliband's announcement is tailor-made to appeal to two of the groups he is most concerned with: "the squeezed middle" and disaffected Liberal Democrats. Senior Lib Dems were exasperated by Cameron's suggestion that the banks are "an easy scapegoat" and few are more angered by the bankers' recklessness than the middle classes. It's hardly election-winning stuff but, in the current circumstances, a little bit of populism will do Miliband no harm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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