Labour’s confused moral crusade

Labour's attempts to prove it can govern more ethically than the Tories have back-fired. Emily Hohler reports.


The two Eds: their entire offer is sanctimony

A perception is building that Labour has had a "breakthrough week", says Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph. Or rather, a "breakdown week" for the Tories. The HSBC scandal merged in the public consciousness with the Black and White Ball, the annual Conservative fundraiser ("Porn barons. Shady financiers. Hedge fund kings", according to the Daily Mail).

We then had Ed Miliband's confrontation with Tory donor Lord Fink and Fink's relaxed admission that he practises "vanilla" tax avoidance.

Almost immediately, however, Labour's tax crusade backfired a host of Labour donors had already been exposed for using a range of tax dodges.

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Hypocrisy is always "toxic" politically, says Hodges, but particularly so for Labour, whose "entire offer" is now based on convincing people not that they can govern us more "efficiently or prudently" than the Tories, but that they can govern more ethically.

In any case, Miliband's targets are too obvious to "hurtle him towards the premiership", says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. They are "pantomime villains": energy companies, banks, tax evaders. National leadership requires he "whack a few vested interests on his own side".

The teaching unions and other public-sector lobby groups; municipal government fat cats; tax-funded charities. There is a "lapse of the heart as well as the head here". A bad school or hospital hurts people as much as any of the private-sector vices Labour crusades against.

There's another issue here, which is the complexity of our tax system, saysJackie Ashley in The Guardian. As Miliband's own use of a variation of deed to help reduce tax on a family property shows, there is "a lot of confusion about what is acceptable and prudent financial planning, and what is dodging".

The two Eds need to promise a radical review of UK tax laws, "to make them far, far simpler". Quite, says The Times. The "simple requirement to obey the law only works well when the law is clear".

Our tax code is "absurdly long" and "shot through with loopholes". It has "given rise to a whole dialect of euphemism spoken by accountants, clients and the tax collectors who pursue them with scant consistency".

The fact is that we probably all prefer to "pay as little tax as possible", because our families and communities come first and we don't necessarily trust the state to spend our money wisely, says The Daily Telegraph.

Labour's "sanctimonious" approach "clouds the difference between tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (illegal), reduces trust in our democratic process by alluding constantly to scandal and distracts the public from the issues that really matter".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.