Mr Miliband also called for more nimble regulation at a European level,
reiterating his call for a ‘Digital Ombudsman’ to regulate potentially
anti-competitive businesses, and added that capitalism “should be about more
than adhering to the letter of the law”.
He said he was sorry that Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt wasn’t in
the audience to hear his speech, and attacked David Cameron for not raising
Google’s tax rate with Mr Schmidt, when they met at a No 10 event on Monday.
However, today Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he did directly raise the
issue with Mr Schmidt at the event, telling him there was massive public
concern “as Google are finding out” that, at a time of austerity
for ordinary households and businesses, big companies should pay their fair
share of tax.
The Labour leader used Google’s platform to quote back their own slogan,
‘Don’t be evil’, and quoted from the letter that founders Sergey Brin and
Larry Page wrote to accompany the 2004 flotation of their search company.
He claimed they had abandoned their original commitment to forego short-term
gain in favour of a complex tax structure that saw them pay less than one
per cent tax on their UK business.
Mr Miliband also claimed that individual countries should be more aware of
their own value to large corporations. “There’s one school of thought that
says companies can go where they like. I don’t think Google’s about to leave
the country. Governments have more power than they realise but of course
they’ve got to work internationally.”
He added that customers can also exert commercial pressures, alluding to the
example of Apple improving working conditions in factories its suppliers use
after widespread public attention.
Reaction to the speech at the conference was mixed. While some delegates
hailed a leader who was prepared to take on a moral issue, many questioned
what “teeth” were available in a global marketplace, and asked whether a
digital ombudsman, quickly dubbed “the internet sheriff” was a practical