The personality traits that worked in the boardrooms of the last century, where today’s business leaders built their careers, thrived on Tory values. Many of the people rising to the top now were the 90s yuppies, flip-phone and Filofax carrying children of the Thatcher revolution. That’s not a criticism; full disclosure, I even had the ponytail when I worked for P&G in the 90‘s. So it shouldn’t be any surprise when 100 of them sign a letter praising Tory economic policies, that they prefer low taxes for their business and austerity for the people, in fact it would have been a surprise if there hadn’t been such a letter.
Labour outflanked on austerity
The Conservatives want to position themselves as strong on the economy and Labour as endangering the recovery and they have Labour just where they want them. Labour has two choices; claim to be every bit as responsible and cut just like the Tories, or be the party with a sensible alternative to austerity. By trying to project themselves as both they just don’t look trustworthy on the economy. Labour is flanked on the right by Tory policies may seem heartless but they are working within the narrow definition of success used by big business and the conservatives. Labour is also flanked on the left (but frankly not that far left) by the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon’s credible alternative to austerity presented in London recently has a lot of admirers in think-tank-land, in that it balances the need for growth with the need for social protection.
Caught in the middle of two clearly defined economic alternatives Labour seem to be floundering about like a fish out of water. Firstly Ed Milliband inexplicably decided to launch the official Labour campaign standing behind a heavily branded Bloomberg lectern; not only is Bloomberg synonymous with the city and big business, but you would have to be sure in promoting a brand in that way that they were 100% behind your policies. But the very next day Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg, signed the letter supporting the Tories economic policies. Who on earth is advising Labour? Just the day before the Labour pro EU advert backfired, when both Siemens’ and Kellogg’s CEOs complained about their quotes being used in a political advert without permission. I mean you would check right?
Tories trying to paint labour as anti-business
A few years ago Labour would have been able to publish a list of 100 of their own business supporters and they would still dearly love to, but those days are gone and not because they are going back to their Scottish socialist roots but because business just isn’t that into Ed Miliband. This leaves Labour supporters with nothing to do but criticise the signatories, pointing out that three were given peerages last August by Cameron, or that 30 are Tory donors, that some have strong links to the CBI, or that some have even managed to avoid paying all their taxes etc. – this just helps the Tories to paint Labour as anti-business, which was their goal all along.
Most metropolitan media commentators are fascinated and hugely surprised by the collapse of Labour in Scotland. However, to me the big surprise is that the Tories are not running away with the election in England. With Labour under attack from business, official figures showing that the UK economy is growing faster than expected (at 2.8% – faster than anyone else that maters) and household disposable income at back to pre-2010 levels having dipped as a result of a recession started on Labour’s last watch, why don’t the tories have a 5% lead in England by now?
UKIP not Labour stopping Conservative majority
So why are they still neck and neck in the polls in England? The answer is UKIP. Add the Tories on 36 and UKIP on 10% (last Ashcroft) and there is a 46% right wing Euro-sceptic vote in England, enough for a landslide. The Tories’ improving in the polls will go hand in hand with the fall of UKIP, as many EU sceptics will drift back to the Tories on the understanding that a vote for UKiP means more chance of a Labour government and no EU referendum. I agree with Ed Milliband’s claim that “The biggest risk to British business is the threat of an EU exit”, but it’s tactically naive to think he can deny an EU referendum and not allow the Tories to be saved by the UKIP votes returning home.
Tory letter won’t make a jot of difference in Scotland
So do letters of support from business figures matter? Well yes they do, to the floating voter, and the UKIP voter in particular, but not really to anyone else. The Tory letter won’t make a jot of difference in Scotland though and we saw several of those 100 names last year claiming Scotland’s economy would crumble without Westminster management. Missing from the Tory letter was former B&Q boss Sir Ian Cheshire, who stood with Johann Lamont and announced that a YES vote would stop his company opening more stores in Scotland. Last week B&Q announced they would close 80 stores announcing a 15.2% fall in pre-tax profit for 2014. Funny their CEO not knowing that his stores were facing closure when he was promising new investment just a few months ago. It seems Labour even managed to get photographed with the wrong big business figures during the referendum campaign.
SNP does business support differently
Labour’s problems in Scotland are compounded in that the SNP also takes the lead in business support in Scotland, but they do it differently. This week Jim McColl called for full fiscal powers for Scotland, an SNP post referendum policy. They have also been able to pull in support from leading business people for specific policies such as independence from major PLC figures such as Ralph Topping and Brian Souter, as well as from the several thousand SME owners who are Business for Scotland members. I would suggest that despite Labour’s recent attacks on more powers there will be majority support in the business community for it, and that widespread mix of support from leading business people from both PLCs and SMEs for key policies is impressive for a centre left party.
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