50p tax letter business leaders gave £776,000 to the Tories

Of the 24 signatories to the letter attacking Labour's plan to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, eight have donated to the Conservatives.

As headlines go, "High earners sign letter against paying more tax" ranks alongside "Turkeys sceptical ahead of Christmas vote", but that's the essence of the Telegraph's splash today. The paper has published a letter from 24 business leaders declaring that Labour's pledge to reintroduce the 50p tax rate is "a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain". It reads:

Dear Sir,

We are concerned to see Ed Balls and the Labour Party calling for higher taxes on businesses and business people.

We think that these higher taxes will have the effect of discouraging business investment in the UK.

This is a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain.

The paper notes that one of the signatories, Richard Caring, the owner of Le Caprice and the Ivy restaurants, has an outstanding £2m loan to Labour but, oddly, doesn't mention the large number of Conservative donors on the list. Of the 24 signatories, eight have donated a total of £776,111 to the Tories. Here, courtesy of the Electoral Commission, are the full details of their donations. 

Richard Caring - £222,000.75

Neil Clifford, Chief Executive, Kurt Geiger - £12,000

Peter Cullum, Executive Chairman, Towergate - £15,000 from Towergate to the Conservative 1922 Committee

Michael Gutman, Chief Executive, Westfield Group - £211,570 from Westfield; Gutman has attended Conservative Leader's Group dinners

Mike Lynch, Chairman, Invoke Capital; Founder, Autonomy - £50,000

Tim Oliver, Founder and Chairman, Hampden - £12,940 from Oliver, £54,600 from Hampden

Paul Walsh - £10,000

Will Wyatt, CEO, Caledonia - £188,000 from Caledonia to Conservative associations/candidates

Total: £776,110.75

Also on the list is Karren Brady, the vice chairman of West Ham, who introduced George Osborne at last year's Conservative conference and was recently appointed as the party's Small Business Ambassador (and is spoken of as a potential London mayoral candidate). 

Why might the Tories not want these details to be known? Because it undermines the intended impression that this letter emerged spontaneously from "independent" business leaders and is suggestive of favours for favours. Few doubt that the ire of Conservative donors over the 50p tax rate was one of the factors that lay behind its abolition by the coalition last April. Indeed, anyone who doubts their influence over Tory policy should read Matthew d'Ancona's In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government in which it is revealed that David Cameron vetoed the proposed introduction of a mansion tax on the grounds that "our donors would never put up with it". 

After this letter, one wonders whether their next demand will be that the Tories formally pledge to reduce the top rate from 45p to 40p if still in government after the next election (Cameron and Osborne have already hinted that they would like to do so). In his column in today's Telegraph, Boris Johnson writes: "The government should open up some more blue water, and cut the top rate back to 40p."

Finally, while most of the signatories have long opposed the 50p rate, it's worth noting how one of them has changed his tune. Former M&S boss Stuart Rose, the chairman of Ocado, says that the measure would "put at risk all the good work that has been done to put the economy back on track". But back in 2011, before its abolition, he said: "I don't think that they should reduce the income tax rate. How would I explain to my secretary that I am getting less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when hers is not going down? If, in the short term, a case was made for me to pay more than 50 per cent tax, which would help UK plc, I personally – Stuart Rose – would be prepared to pay more tax." Since austerity is going to continue for the entirety of the next parliament, it remains to be seen how he will justify this volte-face.

Conservative ministers at the party's conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage