Not a day goes by without some second-tier shadow minister squawking about the ‘cabinet of millionaires’. Under the new politics that Ed Miliband heralded when he won the Labour leadership, the backgrounds of David Cameron and his posho chums are fair game.
Some on the red side are a little quieter on the topic of dosh and background, though. Thanks to a complex web of companies, foundations and trusts, no one knows exactly how much money Tony Blair has made since he left office, but it’s safe to say it’s a bucketload. The earning capacity of other architects of New Labour — Lord Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, for instance — is well documented. And things aren’t exactly grim for the colleagues they left behind at the coalface. In the Miliband ranks there are some spectacularly rich individuals: gold-plated MPs, millionaire spin doctors and property-tycoon donors. Milibandism is awash with money.
Politicians’ wealth and background is an obvious line of attack for any Labour team, especially one as left of centre as Miliband’s, yet you might think Ed would have a look around his own back yard first. Perhaps he could start in his actual back garden; he has acknowledged that his house, valued at £2.3 million, would be subject to the sort of mansion tax he wants to introduce. It’s in Dartmouth Park, a leafy corner of north London that’s a favourite with Labour’s current ruling class — nice schools, a low crime rate and not too many poor people.
Miliband played the market well, selling flats and a house in Hampstead as well as employing some rather nifty accounting with his brother and mother in what appears to be a very efficient reaction to their inheritance from his late father. Add to that a house in Doncaster, his £139,000 salary and his wife’s reported income of £200,000 at the Bar, and life is pretty rosy for the Labour leader. He is in good -company, too.
On the Labour benches, the steel heiress Margaret Hodge’s millions are an obvious example. Steel giants Stemcor have made the Oppenheimers more than £190 million and their daughter Margaret, with her £18 million slice, is the richest woman in Parliament. Hodge and her brother own 9 per cent of the company, though Hodge describes this as ‘tiny’. And who could forget Shaun Woodward, who married a Sainsbury’s heiress and declares property in ‘France, New York State and the West Indies from which rental income is received’? With a good claim to being the richest man in Westminster, the former Northern Ireland Secretary has done well out of property, selling a St James’s Park townhouse to Sting for £5.7 million, making about £3 million on the deal and ploughing the cash back into other properties. In 2011 it was reported that Woodward sold his palatial Hamptons retreat for £11.5 million, leaving he and his wife with just half a dozen properties. Woodward sold Sarsden House, his Oxfordshire pile, in 2006 for £24 million. It is not known whether he retained the services of its famous butler.
While Ed’s focus groups tell him to whack the government as ‘out of touch’ Etonian toffs, you will not hear Harriet Harman having a dig at Osborne for going to St Paul’s. The Labour deputy leader is a niece of the Earl of Longford, has a Suffolk estate, and an is Old Paulina herself. Not content with her bumper government pension, she managed to get hubby a seat on the gravy train too. Old-timer socialist Michael Meacher could help solve the housing shortage by flogging one of the ten homes that make up his extensive property portfolio.
You don’t hear shadow international development secretary Hilary Benn saying much about Dave and co having big houses either. Along with a £2 million pad in Chiswick, Benn does not like to mention the family estate. While his old man gave up his titles to become an MP, the Benns were a little more reluctant to lose all those acres of Essex.
Across town in Islington, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has a growing property empire. She, Blair and Margaret Hodge were all neighbours on the same street once, with homes that would not leave you much change from a couple of million.
Some of Ed’s troops worked hard for their money, though. Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Liam Byrne used to work for those well-known progressives Rothschilds. It’s unlikely he walked out short-changed when he left — and that’s before years of ministerial pay and the pension pot it brings. It’s not just the bankers, property speculators and inherited blue-blood brigade that are kings of the one per cent. The professional politicians are not doing too badly either. Looking at shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and his man-of-the-people, football-loving, one-of-the-lads-drinking-bitter patter, he hardly screams Riviera chic. His wife, however, can be found tweeting about hosting drinks ‘on our boat in Cannes harbour’.
The Balls family have gone from wonks to millionaires entirely out of the public purse. The power couple had a joint income of almost £300,000 per annum for the half a decade during which both public schoolboy Ed and Yvette held high office. After years of jumbo expense claims, ‘flipping’ their main home not once but three times, you can see why the Ballses managed to collect properties worth well over a million. They have some work to do, though, if they are to become the true red king and queen of getting mega-rich on the taxpayer. That title remains firmly with the Kinnock family via the millions they have squeezed out of the European Union; between them the couple are eligible for an estimated £12 million of pay and allowances from the EU, including six-figure pensions.
So whose brainwave were these whack-the-Tories tactics? Step forward grumpy spinner Tom Baldwin, who joined Ed’s side from the Murdoch empire. The former Times hack dresses like a tramp and has the chippy socialist look down to a tee. He was in David Cameron’s year at Oxford; they even did the same degree. Baldwin may accuse the Tories of being out-of-touch rich boys, but he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Mrs Baldwin is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and was raised in the tough surroundings of Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. Rebecca Baldwin is the ex-wife of the 4th Baron Milford, who has earned herself the nickname ‘Just 16’ after it was alleged that was her answer to a question about how many millions she had inherited. When Baldwin is up late plotting new attacks on Tory toffs, he can do so from his £4 million villa overlooking Highbury Fields. Cruel former colleagues in newspaperland still fondly remember Tom loudly declaring after his wedding, ‘I’m on the deeds, I’m on the deeds.’
While Ed’s relationship with his union donors has caused him the most grief, he has not been afraid of surrounding himself with some of London’s most loaded lefties. Andrew Rosenfeld has donated more than half a million since Ed took over, and has pledged to pour a million into party coffers before the next election. Ed turned a blind eye to the fact the property developer has spent the best part of the past decade living in a tax haven in Geneva. He’s back now, and planning permission documents lodged with Haringey council last summer reveal he wants to tear down his ‘rather ordinary’ £8.5 million house in Highgate and replace it with a rather naff 16,000 square foot, ten-bedroom ‘faux Jacobean villa’ with a cinema, gym and art gallery. Local opposition, including that expressed by Labour councillors, meant plans for a tennis court were shelved.
Yet it is not all bad news for Ed’s money man; in the same summer his grateful leader gave him an official party role. And where did he get the money for such a grand redesign? Rosenfeld sold his Swiss home to the family of Islam Karimov, the Uzbekistan president. Human Rights Watch has accused Karimov’s regime of boiling political opponents alive. Given that Rosenfeld bought the house for £9 million and sold it for £30 million, you can see why he might be feeling generous.
Rosenfeld is not the only controversial millionaire from whom Ed has gratefully received donations. This year he took £1.6 million from John Mills, the brother of former minister Tessa Jowell’s husband David, whose conviction for accepting a bribe in Italy has reassuringly been overturned on statute-of–limitations grounds. Mills’s donation was given in shares, which led the Tories to ask an obvious question: why?
Despite attacking the government for stuffing the House of Lords with rich donors, Ed nominated Willie Haughey, the Glasgow ‘fridge magnate’, for a peerage last month. The former professional poker player and Scottish businessman had donated £1.3 million. Sir Charles Allen also made that list, under his guise as chairman of the Labour party’s executive board. The soon-to-be lord also works as an adviser to Goldman Sachs.
Ed is always keen to impress his friends with deep pockets; he was left very red-faced when photographed in 2011 attending a football match in the Rolls-Royce of Assem Allam, another millionaire property developer and chairman of Hull City Football Club. It would not have been much of a story had Miliband not cancelled an appearance at an NHS rally earlier that day due to illness. It came as no surprise that Allam, nicknamed ‘The Pharaoh’, had slipped the party £100,000.
And it’s not just the donors Ed courts; leaked emails revealed that global spin merchant and Labour cheerleader Roland Rudd has organised a series of dinners at his house to introduce the Labour leader to business types. Despite promises, the names of those with whom Ed broke foccacia are so far unreleased.
As Ed pledges to tackle his relationship with the union barons once and for all, his reliance on private wealth is only set to increase. Surely he’s not ashamed of his new-found friends? It’s not as if he’s unused to being surrounded by them.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 21 September 2013Tags: Autumn 2013