What's that? A Monaco-based billionaire has attacked Ed Miliband, who wants to clamp down on tax avoidance? Hold the press!

The owner of Boots is a real master of surprise

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The Independent Online

Never on a Sunday, to kick off with an overdue tribute to the late Demis Roussos, has the press given such a concerted kicking to an embattled Labour leader.

The sabbath titles contained little but gloom for Ed Miliband, with The Sun and Mail on Sunday capturing the mood by running aggressive pieces by supposed Labour stalwarts (Damian McBride and New Statesman editor Jason Cowley respectively).

Meanwhile, it fell to The Sunday Telegraph to unleash what it claimed to regard as a potential election tie-breaker. It may well be right, because if there is one political analyst who might influence voters in the marginals, it has to be an Italian billionaire who lives in tax-free Monaco.

Stefano Pessina is the owner of Boots, and in an interview offered the over-the-counter diagnosis that Labour was dangerously “anti-business”. Going further, in what The Telegraph identified as “a significant blow to Labour’s general election campaign”, he warned that its policies would prove a “catastrophe” for Britain.

Asked which policies most distressed him, the man who purchased Boots via one of those leveraged buyouts that saddle the firm with colossal debt was oddly amnesiac. “Mr Pessina, a 73-year-old Italian who is estimated to have amassed a £7.5 billion fortune,” the paper reveals, “declined to elaborate on which specific policies he disliked.”


Perhaps we can jog the old fella’s memory. Might one policy not wholly to his taste be Labour’s commitment to stamp out corporate tax avoidance? Since he took the high street chain into private ownership six years ago, Boots has avoided some £1.1bn in corporation tax by such elegant (and, yes, entirely legal) measures as rerouting cash through subsidiaries in tax havens and loading debt repayment to slash declared profits. Nothing new there. What is slightly unusual about the Boots case is that the 40 per cent of its revenue that stems from selling prescription drugs and giving flu jabs emanates from the NHS budget.

No taxpayer could resent subsidising Mr Pessina’s vast wealth, and bless him for taking an altruistic interest in li’l ol’ us from his Monégasque home.

So if David Cameron is looking to add further to his debating dream team, he should demand the inclusion of the leader of the Foreign Billionaire Leveraged Buyout Masters Of The Universe Fighting For Justice For British Workers Party (FBLBMUFJBWP). Signor Pessina’s, as I said, is a democratic voice from whom we all yearn to hear much more in these electorally bemusing days.


Lord Prescott condemns hypocrisy – in others

With the self-appointed keepers of the New Labour flame turning on Ed Miliband almost as viciously as the right-wing  press, thank heaven that one good  man comes to the aid of his party.

John Prescott is livid that Alan Milburn, John Hutton and others lacerate Little Ed for building Labour’s election campaign on the pledge to steer the NHS away from the rocks of privatisation.

“They collaborated to keep Brown OUT,” tweets the Mouth of the Humber. “Now collaborating to keep Cameron IN.” He has a point, and might have gone futher by mentioning that Milburn, a former Health Secretary, earns a decent whack from consulting for private health providers.

Perhaps his lordship will do so before long, safe in the knowledge that he remains free from any taint of hypocrisy in the work market himself.

This ferocious critic of the phone hacking of which he was a victim continues to write his almost readable Sunday Mirror column, despite the revelations that the Mirror Group intercepted messages with abandon.


A First Class guide to filling newspaper columns

I am concerned by the Mail Online’s refusal to give the cadging of airline upgrades the coverage this captivating topic deserves. Last week’s guide, catchily headlined “From getting an upgrade to bagging a better seat, the tricks of travelling in comfort revealed”, was the first for an eon.

Indeed, it hadn’t appeared since October 2014’s “Fly from a smaller aiport, don’t order a special meal and bring a treat for the attendants: ... the secrets to getting an upgrade on a flight.” Before that, it was September 2014 for “Sit near a baby, arrive early (or late) for a check-in and wear a cashmere shawl or linen jacket: 15 insider tips on how to get upgraded to First Class withoug paying”. For those without the patience to wait until its next appearance on 4 March, and planning a Valentine’s Day trip, I demand it has an outing tomorrow week.


Blaming the cetacean

Our Daily Mail Headline of the Week: “Man who had SEX with a dolphin in the 1970s claims in new film that the performing mammal was the one who seduced HIM”.