By Martin Kelly
A Labour MP reportedly brought in to help the struggling No campaign, has been left red faced after appearing to make false claims in a live TV interview.
Douglas Alexander was being challenged on claims made by the Labour party which suggested people in the UK had paid an extra £450 VAT on their yearly shopping bills.
However when pressed that such a claim would be impossible over such a period, the Paisley MP told interviewer Andrew Neil the time period for the figure was not one year, but four.
The interview centred on a Labour party campaign leaflet which showed food and drink, along with what appeared to be some cleaning items, next to which was a message which read: “They put £450 extra VAT on your shopping bill”
However when pressed on the accuracy of the leaflet, the Labour MP was forced to admit that the food items did not incur VAT. Mr Alexander claimed their inclusion on the leaflet was merely “a visual representation of the weekly shop”
The Labour MP hit out at the BBC presenter over claims the VAT figure was wrong, and asked: “So you are denying that £450 extra is being paid by average families on their shopping bill during the year?”
However when it was explained to Mr Alexander that to reach such a figure in the course of a year, a family would have to spend more than their entire annual salary on buying shopping that attracted VAT, the Labour MP immediately backtracked on his earlier “during the year” statement.
Asked how a family on a disposable income of £21,000 could spend the required £21,600 on VATable goods, Alexander contradicted the statement he had made moments earlier and replied: “It doesn’t say it is an annualised figure does it?”
The Labour MP then claimed the figure had been calculated “over the course of the parliament”.
However, comments from party colleagues uncovered by online site Wings Over Scotland have exposed Mr Alexander’s claim as false. In a series of quotes unearthed by the site, it has emerged that the one year period was indeed the timescale referred to by the leaflet.
Comments unearthed include:
“While the Government is giving the banks a tax cut this year, the VAT rise has hit families hard – costing a couple with kids around £450 per year.” (Cathy Jamieson, shadow economic secretary to the Treasury)
“A family with children earning £20,000 still loses £253 a year from this April as a result of the government’s other cuts to things like tax credits and child benefit. That’s on top of the VAT rise which is costing families an average £450 a year.” (Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary)
“Families with children will lose an average of £511 a year from changes to tax, benefits and tax credits being introduced from tomorrow, according to new figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies being highlighted by Labour today.
The analysis follows last month’s Budget and is on top of tax rises already introduced, like last year’s VAT rise which is costing a family with children an average of £450 per year.” (Ed Balls, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer)
“The Chancellor already raised VAT to 20% in 2011 and this is costing families with children an average of £450 a year.” (Owen Smith, MP for Pontypridd and shadow Treasury minister)
“Families are already suffering from last year’s VAT rise which is costing a family with children an average of £450 per year and these cuts will pile on even more misery during difficult times.” (Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South)
“A family with children earning just £20,000 will lose £253 a year from this April, on top of the VAT rise which is costing a family an average of £450 per year.” (Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish)
The gaff has thrown the spotlight on Alexander who, according to the Daily Mail, has been drafted in to help the struggling anti-independence campaign. According to the newspaper, Alexander’s colleague, Labour MP Alistair Darling has been sidelined after conducting a campaign described by some of his Conservative allies as ‘comatose’.
Douglas Alexander’s involvement in election campaigns is one fraught with controversy. In 2007 he was forced to issue an apology after the Scottish elections ended in chaos with 140,000 spoiled ballot papers.
The Labour MP was also criticised after it emerged that in 1999 he had told his party that they had to “engender fear” into the hearts of the Scottish electorate in order to thwart the SNP.