Labour exposes Osborne's tax cut for bankers

New figures from the party show that 643 bankers earning more than £1m a year will receive an average of £54,000 from the cut in the 50p tax rate.

After a week dominated by welfare cuts, an area where public opinion favours the coalition, Labour is hoping to regain the political advantage tomorrow when the 50p tax rate is officially reduced to 45p. Polls have consistently shown that the public, including Conservative voters, are overwhelmingly opposed to the move and an increasing number of Tory MPs (such as Jesse Norman and Robert Halfon) recognise that the decision inflicted permanent damage on their party's brand. 

Labour has dubbed tomorrow "Tory Millionaires' Day" after calculating that the UK's 13,000 income millionaires will receive an average tax cut of £100,000 a year (nearly four times the median salary of £26,500). Now the party's number crunchers have produced some equally potent stats on the gains that the top earning bankers will make. Labour has calculated that 643 bankers, working in the UK's five major banks and earning more than £1m a year, will receive a combined tax cut worth at least £34.6m per year - an average of £53,775 per banker. Millionaire bankers in the state-backed RBS and Lloyds are set to get a tax cut of over £7.5m per year - an average of £63,686 each. In addition, the 40 highest paid senior bank executives will receive a tax cut worth almost £4m - an average of £99,694 each.

Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury said:

People on middle and low incomes, who are paying more in higher VAT and seeing their tax credits and child benefit cut, will be totally appalled at the size of this government's tax giveaway to highly paid banking executives.

While the average family will be £891 worse off this year because of tax and benefit changes since 2010, it cannot be right for David Cameron and George Osborne to give a huge tax cut to millionaires this weekend.

Forcing millions to pay more while millionaires pay less is the act of a government that is totally out of touch and consistently stands up for the wrong people. Bankers are getting a bonus from David Cameron and George Osborne, while Britain's families pay the price for their economic failure.

For Osborne, who was careful in the Budget to emphasise that the banks would not benefit from the reductions in corporation tax, the figures are a political headache. The Chancellor's consistent line is that the 50p rate was ineffective because the rich avoided it (in fact, as I explained here, it raised £1bn in its first year and would have gone on to raise more) but to most voters that sounds like an argument for clamping down on avoidance (as the coalition claims it is doing), not for cutting taxes for the highest earners. 

People walk past the Royal Bank of Scotland building in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories