Leaked emails pile pressure on Labour to explain Tory tax vote screw-up

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP and Plaid Cymru have expressed astonishment after an advisor to Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, admitted that Labour had made a “screw-up” by not voting with the SNP and Plaid Cymru to oppose Tory plans to cut the top rate of tax for the highest earners.

The leaked admission reveals embarrassing efforts by Labour staff to claim their abstention had been intended, and advice to Scottish Labour’s press office to “hold off releasing line in Scotland just yet, in the hope that it is ignored.”

The emails show the person suggesting the party hold off releasing Labour’s line on the embarrassing blunder “in the hope that it is ignored” in Scotland is the political advisor to Labour MP Margaret Curran (pictured).

Both the SNP and Plaid forced a vote on the controversial lowering of the tax rate from 50p to 45p.  However the Labour party abstained rather than support the proposal aimed at blocking the cut.

The refusal by the Labour party to vote against the controversial tax cut for high earners came despite the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls pledging to do just that.

Speaking at the start of four days of Budget debate in the Commons on Thursday, Ed Balls said:

“There will be a vote next week, we will vote against the 50p.  It’s the wrong tax cut at the wrong time.”

Commenting SNP Westminster Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP said:

“Last week Ed Balls promised Labour would vote against the cut in the top rate of tax, last night they abstained. This morning they claimed their no-show was a strategic move and this afternoon we find it was all just incompetence.

“Labour’s spinning has unravelled to reveal the embarrassing truth – the party is unfit for purpose as an opposition. Labour’s incompetence has, again, let the Tories off the hook.

“While Labour work out how votes work at Westminster, the SNP will oppose the Tories unfair Budget which punishes pensioners and public sector workers and does nothing to stimulate the economy.  This was not a budget for Scotland and is proof of the urgent need for Scotland to have control over financial powers with independence.”

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said:

“Labour are the party that don’t know who they are or what they stand for. Last year they abstained when we fought to cut VAT, this year they abstained on whether or not to help the mega-rich.

“There was no surprise in this vote – it was in the order paper. This is what Ed Balls was like at the Treasury – good at shouting, poor on detail. Plaid will continue to put the case for a progressive taxation system – fair tax is a principle, not an option.”

In a leaked chain of emails a Labour figure asks: “Whats the line on this nat vote last night? Seen eds tweet but nats are saying there was a vote?”

In response a Labour insider claims: “Truth is there was a screw up somewhere along the way last night and it wasn’t clear what SNP had called a vote on or how, so we abstained on their vote.”

One recipient in the chain is Alan Gillam who is the political advisor to Labour MP Margaret Curran, who writes: “And yes – of the 22 naes, the nats were all there…..The line from alex is fine. I am trying to find out where we went wrong.”

The leaked emails, that include the Scottish Labour Press Office, reveal Gillam suggesting holding off from “releasing a line in Scotland” over the vote blunder in the hope that the issue gets ignored.

“We should probably hold off releasing line in Scotland just yet, in the hope that it is ignored, but will probably have to do it later.  Will speak to the lobby down here and subtly find out what they are writing up today,” he writes.

The suggestion that Labour’s failure to vote against the Tory tax cut may be ignored in Scotland will call into question Labour’s relationship with the media north of the border.

The emails also suggest an attempt by the Labour party to manage the blunder by claiming they did not know what they were abstaining on.

The full leaked email chain can be read here.

Newsnet Scotland will be watching to see how the Scottish media, especially the BBC, report this – if at all.  For the record, according to the leaked emails, Labour’s line/spin is:

“Line is: we voted against whole Budget package which obviously includes 50p (first vote at 10pm), and we will seek to amend and vote on the Finance Bill on 50p, plus other issues of concern like the changes to allowances for pensioners (granny tax). There’s not much more we can say beyond that.”