ED Balls has promised tougher penalties for tax avoiders in the latest chapter in Labour’s efforts to breathe life into its flagging election campaign effort.
The Shadow Chancellor unveiled plans to fine people caught setting up “abusive” avoidance schemes up to 100 per cent of the tax avoided in addition to paying the tax owed.
In a clear attempt to portray his Conservative opponents as the unconditional friends of the rich, Mr Balls compared aggressive tax avoidance to cheating the benefits system.
Mr Balls wrote on his blog tonight: “Tackling tax avoidance is a key part of our economic plan. A fair and robust tax system is vital if we are to bring down the deficit, safeguard our National Health Service and maintain public support for the dynamic open economy we need.”
He added: “The public want us to be tough on the small minority of people who cheat the benefits system.
“They want us to be just as tough on companies and individuals who evade or aggressively avoid the taxes they should rightly pay.
“Through measures such as this we can ensure that no-one pays zero tax at the top so we can get the deficit down fairly, invest in our NHS, and maintain public support for the dynamic open economy we need.”
At the moment, people caught under the “general anti-abuse rule” designed to stop aggressive tax avoidance only have to pay back the tax they owe.
Labour wants fines on top of that to act as a deterrent to individuals attempting to set up such schemes in the first place.
The announcement from Mr Balls is part of a co-ordinated effort by Labour to assert control of the political agenda after days of damaging speculation about the leadership of Ed Milband.
In a speech earlier today, Mr Milband said he was motivated by a belief in the need to change the country
Mr Miliband, who used an autocue after the no-notes party conference speech in which he notoriously forgot to mention the deficit and immigration, said he was not a “whinger” and other people had much harder jobs.
“Shift work. Night work. Zero-hours contracts. Sixty hours a week. Two jobs, even three jobs, to make ends meet,” he said.
“For me, this election is about them. And let me just say this: I am willing to put up with whatever is thrown at me, in order to fight for you.
“That’s my duty, that’s my responsibility. That’s our duty, that’s our responsibility.
“Not to shrink from the fight. Not to buckle under the pressure. But to win.”
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna dismissed the party’s poor poll ratings and a suggestion that Labour’s position would improve if he was the leader.
He told the BBC: “I just don’t buy all of this poll stuff. Polls go up and down. What actually matters are votes and under Ed’s leadership, since 2010, we have put on over 2,000 extra councillors when people actually voted.”
He said people saw in Mr Miliband “honesty, integrity, trust and deep beliefs” and “those are not characteristics, I think generally, most people attribute to most politicians in this day and age”.
“Even our political opponents acknowledge that Ed has those qualities,” he said.
More Labour frontbenchers are expected to make interventions in the coming days to try and put the party back on the front foot.