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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.