Ed Miliband has now repeated what he said about Lord Fink in the Commons. At the end of his speech, he said:
‘Yesterday Conservative donor Lord Fink challenged me to stand by what I said in the House of Commons, that he was engaged in tax avoidance activities. I do. And believe it or not, now today he confirms it as well as he has just said, and I quote, I didn’t object to his use of the word tax avoidance, because you’re right, tax avoidance, everyone does it.
‘Now David Cameron must explain why he appointed a treasurer of the Conservative party who boasts about engaging in tax avoidance and thinks that it’s something everyone does. Friends, this is the big choice facing our country.’
The Tories are now saying that not using the word ‘dodgy’ is a ‘massive climbdown’ for the Labour leader. They’ve even wheeled out Lord Fink to say this:
‘Yesterday I challenged Ed Miliband to repeat the accusations he made in the Commons – that I used an HSBC bank account to avoid tax and that I was a “dodgy donor.”He did not. This is a major climbdown by a man who is willing to smear without getting his facts straight.’
This isn’t right: the Labour leader did not call Fink ‘dodgy’, he said the party had ‘dodgy donors’. Miliband has just said that he stands by that ‘general comment about dodgy donors in the Conservative party’.
There are risks for both parties here. For the Tories, appearing to close ranks around wealthy donors may simply reinforce the impression that they stand up for the rich but not the hardworking taxpayer.
For Labour, there is a risk that we end up with a back to tax basics, a storm David Gauke previously provoked when he talked about how people should or shouldn’t pay their cleaners. Miliband also found himself facing these sorts of back-to-basics questions about the ‘deed of variation’ that gave him and his brother a stake in their parents’ property, thus reducing the inheritance tax payable on the house. Miliband insisted today that ‘I’ve avoided no tax on that’, adding that ‘no doubt the Conservative party wants to smear mud today’. It does appear rather obvious when Fink’s quotes are being sent out by CCHQ, rather than issued independently, that this is a party operation.
No doubt there will be some digging now, not just into Miliband’s tax affairs, but into those of his own donors to see if they meet his tax test. But don’t forget that this week has seen the HSBC row involving Lord Green spin out over a number of days, and that Tory Black and White Ball, which reinforced the impression that the party is one for the rich. There’s plenty for both sides to play with in this.