Labour attacks Osborne over "£2bn tax cut" for the banks

The party releases new figures showing that the banks have paid £1.9bn less in tax than David Cameron promised after cuts to corporation tax.

Parliament officially returns from its Easter recess today and Labour's number crunchers are already causing mischief for George Osborne. The party has accused the Chancellor of handing banks a £2bn tax cut after releasing new figures showing that the coalition's bank levy has raised significantly less than expected in the last two years. 

David Cameron pledged that the levy would raise £2.5bn a year and offset the gains to banks from the cuts in corporation tax. But figures from the OBR show that the levy raised just £1.6bn in 2012-13, while banks received a corporation tax cut of £200m, leaving the Treasury with a net gain of £1.4bn - £1.1bn less than promised. The previous year (2011-12), the levy raised £1.8bn, while the banks gained £100m from the corporation tax cut, a net gain of £1.7bn, or £800m less than promised. In total, then, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than pledged by Cameron (see table below).

 

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

Labour bank bonus tax (£bn)

3.5

n/a

n/a

Tory-led Government bank levy (£bn)

n/a

1.8

1.6

Corporation Tax rate (%)

28

26

24

Corporation tax cut for banks from 2010-11 level (£bn)

n/a

0.1

0.2

Net amount raised from banks (£bn)

3.5

1.7

1.4

Amount raised compared to £2.5bn promised by govt (£bn)

n/a

-0.8

-1.1

Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, plans to raise the figures when the Commons debates the second reading of the Finance Bill later today. He said: 

On top of last week’s tax cut for millionaires, this is effectively a tax cut of nearly £2 billion for the banks at a time when millions of working people are being forced to pay the price for this government’s economic failure.

Whether it’s on tax or watering down reforms to separate retail and investment banks, David Cameron and George Osborne have repeatedly failed to stand up to the vested interests of the banks.  

Labour is still urging the coalition to repeat Alistair Darling's bank bonus tax, which raised £3.5bn in 2010-11, in order to fund a jobs guarantee for every young person unemployed for more than a year (a measure the party is particularly keen to highlight as the benefit cap and other welfare reforms take effect). 

The Treasury has responded by stating that the "fragility of global financial markets" means it is unsurprising that the levy has raised less than by expected and by promising to review it this year "to ensure it is operating efficiently". 

As for the bank bonus tax, we can expect Osborne to point out that Darling himself described it as a "one-off" on the grounds that "the very people you are after here are very good at getting out of these things and will find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it in the future". To most voters, however, that will sound like an argument for tackling avoidance, not for cutting taxes. And the banks' toxic reputation, combined with the image of a government devoted to the rich, means this remains fertile political territory for Labour. 

In the last two years, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than the government promised. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The new French revolution: how En Marche! disrupted politics

The rise of Emmanuel Macron's party has shattered the accepted wisdom.

Alexandre Holroyd bears many similarities to his new boss, Emmanuel Macron. Like the French president, a former banker, Holroyd started his career in the private sector, at the management consultancy firm FTI. At 39, Macron is the youngest ever French president; Holroyd is nine years younger. Both are strongly pro-European and confident in their common mission.

“The Assemblée Nationale is going to profoundly change,” Holroyd told me, sipping fizzy water in a café near St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 16 June. Two days later, in the second round of the French legislative election, he was elected France’s MP for northern Europe – one of the 11 constituencies for French expats around the world – representing Macron’s party, En Marche! (“Forward!”), which swept to a resounding victory.

“People said, ‘These newbies from En Marche! won’t know what to do,’” he told me. “But they will reflect French society: diverse, equal, with multidisciplinary experiences.”

Macron’s election in May capped a remarkable 12 months for the former economy minister, who left the Parti Socialiste (PS) government to run as an independent candidate. But the real power – of the kind that will allow him to implement the liberal reforms he has promised France – arrived only with the legislative election victory.

En Marche! won 350 of the 577 parliamentary seats, a majority that should enable the president to pass laws in the house easily. And the party did so by selecting younger, more socially diverse candidates than is usual in French politics. As with Holroyd, most of the candidates for En Marche! were running for office for the first time. When the National Assembly reopens, three-quarters of the faces will be new.

The renewal of the political class was one of Macron’s main campaign pledges. “There was this will to stop the two main parties’ [the PS’s and the Républicains’] sectarian obstructionism,” Holroyd said. “The French people are fed up with it.”

Much like a Silicon Valley start-up disrupting a sector of the economy – Uber with taxis, for instance – En Marche! sought to disrupt French politics. Macron launched it in April 2016 as a “political club” while still serving in François Hollande’s government. Three months later, more than 3,000 people attended its first event in Paris. The movement welcomed people of all political parties, allowing them to sign up for free online.

Today En Marche! has more than 240,000 supporters. The party’s main source of funding was individual donations and during the presidential campaign, it raised €6.5m. (Macron also took out an €8m personal loan.)

The rise of Macron and En Marche! has shattered the accepted wisdom of French politics: 39 is too young for a president; one cannot be “neither left nor right”; a career in the private sector does not lead to politics; no one can run for the presidency without the support of a pre-existing party.

Yann L’Hénoret, the director of the documentary Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise (available on Netflix), described En Marche! as a “very young” team in which “everyone could give their own view” before Macron had the final say. “Young people are said not to be politically engaged. I saw the inverse, every day, all the time,” L’Hénoret told me.

En Marche! members set up more than 4,000 local committees across France and beyond. Anyone interested in Macron’s project could create one and invite family members, friends and neighbours to take part. “Engage in a march, a conversation, a dinner,” the movement’s website suggested.

The groups then started “the Great March”, a canvassing initiative. “It was like an audit of the society,” said Holroyd. A dual citizen of France and Britain who grew up in west London, he became one of the early marcheurs in July 2016, when he quit his consulting job to set up the London committee. He had never been a member of any party before but Brexit acted as a trigger. “I saw my father’s country tearing itself off from Europe and realised I would regret it if I didn’t contribute to Macron’s project, whose European values I profoundly share.”

A graduate of London’s Lycée Français and Kings College, Holroyd could easily engage with his French expat peers – something that helped him win 70 per cent of the vote in the second round. “The only other party to go and talk to the people was the Front National,” Holroyd said. “The particularity of En Marche! is that many members came from the private sector. It’s exceptional in politics that people in the party have professional experiences. It spoke to many people.”

As En Marche! crowdsourced its candidates, it also ensured that its policies resonated with their locals. During the London “march”, 95 per cent of the participants told the committee that they were expats in the UK because of the economic opportunities here. Macron wants France to be able to entice professionals, too. Financially and socially, his goal can be summed up as: “Make France attractive again.”

Achieving a parliamentary majority has boosted Macron’s hopes of implementing major changes. Reforms may start as soon as this summer, with a liberal reorganisation of France’s rigid labour laws, which currently offer strong protection for workers. “France must invest in the industries of the future,” Holroyd said, quoting his president by the word. “Renewable energy, denuclearisation, ecological transition . . . We must become champions in these fields.”

Despite the scale of the victory, Macron’s team will have noted that the turnout was at a historic low on 18 June – at 42 per cent – suggesting widespread voter apathy. And despite its much-praised social diversity, En Marche! has only one working-class MP for every five middle-class ones. “We are conscious that we’ll be in a difficult situation if, by the end of the mandate, things have not changed for the people who have been left behind for years,” Holroyd said. “Those in outer suburbs, in post-industrial and rural lands.”

If they are to succeed, Macron and his MPs will have to find a way to win them over.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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