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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.