The PricewaterhouseCoopers building in Luxembourg. Photo: Getty
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Labour's biggest non-union donation is from PwC – a firm accused of "promoting tax avoidance"

The latest party donation figures show the Labour party's biggest donation, aside from the unions, is in staff secondments from the huge accountancy firm slammed by the Public Accounts Committee.

Rather embarrassing news for Labour after a good run at keeping the tax shenanigans of the wealthy in the news. It turns out the largest donation the party received from a non-union donor in October-December last year was from PwC. The accountancy giant gave the party £386,605. This wasn't a cash donation, but a donation of staff secondments who do analysis and research for the party in the absence of access to the civil service. As both Labour and PwC point out, the secondees are impartial.

This is pretty awkward for the party, not only because the firm is known for its tax expertise, but also due to recent accusations from the Public Accounts Committee. The committee chair and Labour MP Margaret Hodge told the BBC at the beginning of this month that Labour shadow cabinet ministers, such as Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna, and Rachel Reeves, receiving assistance from the firm is "inappropriate".

She was speaking on the day that her committee produced a report accusing the firm of "the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale". PwC disagreed with this analysis but did comment that the UK tax system is "too complex".

Here are the donation figures, published by the Electoral Commission:

Click on table to enlarge

A Labour spokesperson commented:

PwC have provided long standing staff support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government decisions in areas such as tax policy – and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants – the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy. Secondees do not influence opposition policy decisions. Where organisations provide staff to support research and analysis for opposition parties it is right that these are declared – as currently happens – in the Register of Members' Interests

Nevertheless, if the tax avoidance row rumbles on, this donation will give the Conservative party a response to Labour's accusations about Tory donors.

Doubly tricky for Labour is that it actually accepted a higher amount than the Tories did in the fourth quarter of 2014. Adding up public funds to donations excluding public funds, Labour accepted £10,888,480 to the Tories' £8,365,141. This somewhat undermines Labour politicians' claims that they will be outspent by the Conservatives this election.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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