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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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.