Britain opposes European plans for a Robin Hood tax

Downing Street says it will defend the City from a financial transaction tax that EU leaders claim c

Britain has vowed to fight European plans for a tax on financial transactions. At a summit in Paris on Tuesday, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel surprised other European leaders by calling for a tax that would be applied to deals in shares, bonds, and derivatives.

Campaigners have been calling for the so-called Robin Hood tax for many months. A European Commission paper drawn up this year suggested that a tax of 0.1 per ecnt on stocks and bonds, coupled with a 0.01 per cent levy on derivatives deals, could raise between €31 billion and €50 billion each year.

The idea of a tax on financial transactions was pioneered by the American economist James Tobin but struggled to gain traction during the neoliberal dominance of the 1980s. The idea was mooted by Gordon Brown back in 2009, but he failed to gain significant support for it.

One of the main challenges of introducing a Tobin tax is reaching international agreement. Referring to this latest proposal, a Treasury spokesman said: "Any financial transaction tax would have to apply globally -- otherwise the transactions covered would simply relocate to countries not applying the tax."

Implementing the tax across Europe would go some way towards achieving this; but such a move would require the unanimous approval of all 27 of the EU's member states, and is as such unlikely.

This is a shame. The tax would reduce the excessive risk-taking that brought the world's financial system to its knees. Campaigners also estimate that a small tax could raise billions without having a negative impact on the prosperity of the sector.

Support has come from some unexpected places. In August 2009, Lord Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, suggested that a tax on financial transactions could limit the money available for bonuses and added that it would be "a nice sensible revenue source for funding global public goods".

However, the British government is clearly not interested in even exploring the option of seeking consensus on the tax. When a financial transaction tax was included in the European Commission's seven-year plan at the end of June, Downing Street instantly dismissed the proposal as "completely unrealistic". José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, responded saying: "Some are saying no before they've studied the proposal which was only finalised a few hours ago ... That doesn't fit with seriousness and credibility."

Predictably, shares in backs and stockbroking firms fell with the news. Yet this is no reason for capitulation. The City has called the shots for too long, with a return to business as usual raising the spectre of another financial crash. It is a shame that Downing Street and the Treasury are so concerned with defending the status quo, rather than looking at options for substantive, long-term change.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.