Quite naturally, the latest foray by Labour into pointing fingers at Tory tax avoiders has led to two scraps, firstly about Labour’s own donors and their tax affairs (as James predicted on Thursday) and secondly about whether or not paying your builder in cash is illegal. The last time the second row blew about Westminster, it was after Tory minister and tax personality of the year David Gauke made some rather clumsy comments about paying your cleaner.
Chuka Umunna had a rather tough section of his Today programme interview in which he was repeatedly asked whether Labour would hand back money donated to it by someone who turned out to have been involved in aggressive tax avoidance. He said:
‘As I said I think the Labour Party, if it found out that somebody was engaged in aggressive tax avoidance would think twice before taking the money… I mean you’re asking me a hypothetical question because I’m not aware that we have taken it…’
Jim Naughtie grew rather exasperated at this point, and told Umunna that since his party was talking hypothetically about what it would do in government, he should answer other hypothetical questions too.
Labourites must have calculated that continuing the row about paying your taxes into a third week would be worth the stories that the Sunday newspapers managed to find (including the Sun’s story that ‘Bill Somebody’ has been minimising his tax bill). But a striking finding in yesterday’s polls was that the parties are level-pegging on who is best at tackling tax avoidance. Asked by Comres who would be ‘more effective at cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion’, 31 per cent of voters went for Ed Miliband, 31 per cent went for David Cameron and 38 per cent said they didn’t know. It seems that voters may still feel that when it comes to stopping the rich ‘getting away with it’, politicians are all the same in that they don’t do much.
Perhaps Labour hopes that stirring up stories about wealthy donors, even the collateral damage it sustains won’t be as bad as the damage that the Tories take from stories that confirm suspicions already held by voters that the Conservatives are a party for the rich.