Between a Fink and a Very Tacky Place: “Out of touch” doesn’t even begin to explain the headspace of the Tories and their backers

Last week Cameron and his Tory Crew retreated to a dark and dirty corner, hunkering down with criminal bankers, tax dodgers and the most vulgar nouveau riche to give the finger to working people.

The revelations that HSBC has been aiding and abetting money laundering nations (more benignly known as “tax havens”, you know, those blessed overseas sanctuaries that protect one’s hard earned cash from dangerous national coffers) seemed like pure déjà vu, to say the least.

The fact that Tory backers were among the wealthy clients who HSBC’s Swiss banking arm advised on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities and conceal millions of dollars of assets should not have come as a surprise either.

At weekly PMQs Cameron (as we have come to expect) did his usual thing of refusing to answer questions. In this instance, Ed wanted to know how come Dave had given a peerage to Richard Green, the HSBC boss at the height of the bank’s malfeasance, and made him a government trade minister. Four times Cameron was asked if he had ever had any conversations with Lord Green about tax avoidance at HSBC; four times he changed the subject, hiding behind trite gags about the wheels coming off Labour’s pink bus.

The fall out

The claim from the Treasury and HMRC that France had placed limitations on British prosecutors use of the incriminating HSBC files when handed over to the government in 2010 was very soon shot down. The French denied (in a somewhat prickly way, it must be said) placing any restrictions on the material; the British government had simply not responded, they intimated. Remarkably, Chancellor Osborne has made no statement of any kind.

HSBC chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, took out a full page in some newspapers to offer his apology. He admitted that the bank had “sometimes failed to live up to the standards” expected of it, and shared his pain and frustration at media reports on the allegations. (Oh dear, if only we could somehow find it in our hearts to empathise).

Meanwhile, Lord Green fell on his sword, resigning from his position with an influential (and a bit murky, perhaps?) financial services lobby group. (He will surely not be missed outside of the 1%).

No such “noble” action from a Lord called Fink! A multimillionaire former hedge fund manager and Tory donor who was once also the Tory treasurer, Lord Fink initially threatened to sue Ed for condemning his “tax avoidance activities”. But after sleeping on it he admitted to employing “vanilla” tax avoidance measures, including transferring shares into family trusts while he worked in Switzerland. From his comments, Lord Fink apparently thinks avoiding tax is normal! (We’re all in it together, right?)

Go soft on the rich, punish the poor and the vulnerable

In the midst of the HSBC meltdown we learned just how far our systems are being corrupted in support of the mega rich.

  • There are 300 HMRC employees investigating tax evasion of over £70bn compared to “3,250 Department of Work and Pensions bods chasing down £1.2bn of benefit fraud”.
  • But who goes to prison? In one case highlighted by The Guardian, a cleaner who claimed £25,000 while working for two contract cleaners got 7 months, while a property dealer who hid a 6-figure sum in Switzerland had to pay a small penalty.

As the week drew to a close, Cameron took the path of distraction and divisiveness, announcing plans to go after obese people, alcoholics and drug addicts on benefits.

Swelling the campaign coffers with a glitzy knees-up and ministers for sale

Last week we were also reminded of who the Nasty Party works for, and it was not edifying. The very rich and vulgar turned out in force for the Black and White Ball, and the hilariously ghastly auction that made it the most successful fundraising event in the party’s history according to The Telegraph (if we ignore all these payments from big business tax avoiders!)

Even the Daily Mail was not impressed by the “secret guest list of bankers, hedge-fund managers and dodgy tycoons (not to mention pornographers)”, while The Independent wondered whether, since many of the prizes went for amounts way beyond their face value, they shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as political donations.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, Andrew Rawnsley pointed out that the Tories had “trousered more than £12m from just eight City potentates over the course of this parliament and that the number of big financial donors to the Conservative party has doubled since David Cameron acquired the keys to Number 10”.

Although he defended the ball, the former Tory chancellor, Ken Clarke, for one, thought the party’s dependence on millionaires was getting a bit out of hand and there should be a cap on donations.

And a new poll indicates that last week’s revelations have left a nasty taste. YouGov’s daily tracker, highlighting the issues that are getting public attention, indicates voters have a problem with Tory-Fink Land. Findings on the related issues over the last three days were as follows:

  • The public judge Tories more harshly over funding row
  • The HSBC and tax avoidance story recorded the highest level of public attention in recent months
  • Voters think Swiss bank accounts are held for “underhand” reasons3e9710c8-08c3-43fe-b6d8-a6cd237a53fa-1020x562Cartoon: Chris Riddell, 15 February 2015

It’s Rocky Time! The business sector’s orchestrated attack on Labour fails to land a knockout punch

Pushed back against the ropes, Ed Miliband and Labour came up with some strong counter-punches to make it through another gruelling round of dirty fighting from Tory election strategists and their media backers.

The mainstream media went into full throttle beat-down mode when Boots billionaire, Stefano Pessina, warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the British electorate votes for Ed and Labour in the upcoming general election. (For the record, we had not previously heard of Mr Pessina, much less asked for his opinion.)

A relentless tsunami of ferocious body-blow headlines (above really, really bad photos of Ed) poured forth as some of Britain’s “most respected” (by whom, we know not) business leaders and a New Labourite or two lined up to put the boot in, leading to headlines such as: “Fifteen of Tony Blair’s business backers go cool on Ed Miliband” (The Telegraph) and “Ed Miliband will bankrupt Britain, bosses warn” (Daily Mail).

Labour fight back

Labour hit back with a one-two: First, by acquainting us with Mr Pessina (who it turns out is a tax-dodging exile living in Monaco); and second, by using the opportunity to promote some of its policies to clean up the tax practices of big business and secure a fairer deal for working people. One is that a Labour government would give UK overseas territories six months to compile a public register of offshore companies or be put on a “tax havens” list, potentially repatriating billions of pounds.

Businessmen and Lords claimed that Ed’s “personal attacks” were “shutting down political debate”! Labour was “anti-business”, guilty of stirring up the “politics of envy” and (according to Cameron, cheering from the side lines) displayed a “sneering hatred for business” that would cost the country 100,000 jobs (a random figure clearly pulled out of the air).

The media, firmly in Pessina’s corner, were aghast at Labour’s stand; Ed had been warned about fighting with business, now he would have to face the consequences.

Punch drunk?

But as the new week gets underway, it is fair to say “attack of the businessmen” has not had the results that Tory strategists would have hoped for.

We knew things weren’t going right in the business corner when Pessina’s spokesperson said he had been “quoted out of context”. A few days later, John Mills, Labour’s largest individual donor (and a businessman) wrote of his own experience with the press, exposing the mechanics of bringing media lies into the mainstream. In this case The Mail on Sunday started the lie, The Independent repeated the lie and Cameron used the lie to attack Ed at PMQs.

By this past weekend things had started to shift; the (relatively) more liberal media began shining a light on Tory malfeasance and asking uncomfortable questions. As the BBC online review of The Papers put it, “From Labour in difficulties to a potential Tory embarrassment” reporting on The Sunday Times story about an investigation into tax avoidance by the Tory Solicitor-General, Robert Buckland.

The Guardian broke the news of accounting scams at HSBC and The Sunday Mirror, meanwhile, condemned the “fat cat lives” of those on the boards of big accountancy firms, and reported that Cameron had “no regrets” about appointing the HSBC chief to a top government post offering advice on minimising tax to wealthy clients.

Corporate Britain also turned out to be less worried about Ed than about the Tories dragging the country out of Europe, which reportedly “sends shivers down the spine of big business” and has motivated the millionaire founder of Ecotricity to donate a six-figure sum to Labour.

As for the treacherous New Labourites, they appear to have been brought to heel for the time being with Blair pledging to do everything he can to get Ed and Labour into power (yes, we know, a double-edged sword at best).

Still standing

After taking the latest below-the-belt bashing, Labour is again slightly ahead in polls released at the weekend.

The Guardian asked (somewhat plaintively, we thought): ‘Pilloried by the press, beset by inner turmoil: how is Labour still in the lead? The Times came from the other angle: if Labour is as bad as it appears, why are the Conservatives not well ahead?

Maybe they should ask instead how come Ed is still standing, given the coordinated Tory/Crosby/media attacks in which everything plus three kitchen sinks has been thrown at him for the past four years, non-stop.

Ed’s leadership has been marked by his ability to choose the right fight, hold his corner and roll with the punches. The Labour Party, the unions and the left in general must stand firm with him to win GE2015 and rid the country of the Tory scum and their LibDem enablers.

Post election is when we hold his feet to the fire to ensure he delivers a government that works for the majority.