Labour steps up its attack on the 50p tax cut

New figures show that 8,000 millionaires will gain an average of £107,500 from the abolition of the top tax rate.

One of Ed Miliband's favourite lines of attack against the coalition is that the abolition of the 50p tax rate will give a tax cut of at least £40,000 (£42,500, to be precise) to every person earning over a million pounds a year. The Labour leader says "at least" because many of the 8,000 people in question will, of course, receive far more. Today, at a joint Q&A with Ed Balls ahead of George Osborne's Autumn Statement, Miliband will reveal just how much more.

New figures released by Labour show that income millionaires (as opposed to those whose assets are worth at least a million, a distinction Miliband failed to make in his conference speech) will gain an average of £107,500 from the move. Miliband will say:

They don't understand that you build economic success not from wealth trickling down but by rewarding and supporting working people. Earlier this year I highlighted the millionaires’ tax cut. I said David Cameron would be giving a £40,000 tax cut to every person earning over a million pounds a year.

But new figures we are publishing today show it is even more than that. The Government is about to give an average of £107,500 each to 8,000 people earning over a million a year. Not £40,000. But £107,500. To 8,000 millionaires. David Cameron and George Osborne are giving them this money. But it’s coming from you. You are paying the price of their failure and them standing up for the wrong people.

The Labour leader rightly believes that the abolition of the 50p rate remains one of the government's weakest points. Between now and next April, when the tax cut is formally introduced, we can expect him to take every opportunity to remind the public just how much the richest will benefit from the move. Labour also plans to maintain the pressure on David Cameron to say whether he will gain from the abolition of the top rate. A private poll released by the party in October showed that 62 per cent of voters believe Cameron should "come clean and tell people honestly whether he is personally benefitting from this".

Ed Miliband will today give a Q&A with shadow chancellor Ed Balls ahead of George Osborne's Autumn Statement on 5 December. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.