The end of the beginning?
Labour is regaining the trust of British business.
Under Ed Miliband’s leadership Labour have already made huge strides on the journey from the foothills of our dismal 2010 election failure to the lofty peak of returning to power.
On Tuesday another significant step felt like it was taken as Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna addressed around 500 businesspeople at Labour’s Annual Business Reception at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall in the City.
One of the greatest signs of the challenge that faced the leadership team was the extent to which we lost the business vote in 2010. Virtually no significant business figure came out in support of a Labour government at the last election and, even more significantly, a chasm opened between the voting intentions of public and private sector workers with those not working under the umbrella of the state much less likely to vote for us.
While Tuesday was by no means the resealing of the deal between Labour and the country’s wealth creators, it was perhaps the ‘end of the beginning’ of that process.
Meeting businesspeople from across the country, from Norwich to Manchester and from Sussex to Yorkshire I was struck again by the extent to which they are keen to give Labour a hearing now in a way that they wouldn’t have nine months ago.
Chuka Umunna laid out the challenges that faced Labour. The party was listening and learning, but more businesses every day were telling him they didn’t want government to get out of the way, they wanted it to get behind them and support them in the way their international competitors could expect. He recognised that recovery would only come from a vibrant business sector working in harmony with government.
Subsequently Ed Balls was on top form highlighting the areas of agreement that exist between Labour and the government on the need for a credible deficit reduction strategy, but stipulating that the disagreement was about how it was achieved. They have created a flatlining economy with cuts that have been too far and too fast, choking off the growth needed. The public and private sector should be in partnership because both will play a part in getting Britain back on its feet. We will reduce the deficit but through a stable programme of business growth not an overreliance on public spending cuts.
Ed Miliband spoke of his recent encounter with Heather Small of M People who had said she was supporting Labour because she had seen the fear in the eyes of her 20-year-old niece, and recognised how many other young people saw their hopes abandoned by the Tory government. He made the case for why tackling the obscene practices that have existed in the banking sector was a resolutely pro business thing to do.
He stressed how his government would look to support business and why recent policy studies around the British Investment Bank and the review of long-termism demonstrated how Labour wanted to be on the side of the vast majority of businesspeople who contributed towards the success of the nation, while delivering on the bottom line.
He also introduced the special section of the Future Candidates programme which was designed to encourage more businesspeople to represent the Labour party in parliament and on councils across the country.
The feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Despite the fact that many of them would not consider themselves natural Labour supporters, hundreds waited behind to meet the two Eds and Chuka and to push their particular ideas or concerns about how the British business environment was shaping up.
The final word went to a Shropshire-based accountant who told me: ‘I haven’t voted Labour in quite a while, but seeing those three up there, I have to say they looked like they were serious, I really think they’re going to win.’
Toby Perkins MP is a member of the shadow business team and MP for Chesterfield. He tweets @TobyPerkinsMP
For more on the British Investment Bank, read Stephen Beer on the dilemmas its establishment would pose to politicians
For more on Labour and business, see here
business, Chuka Umunna, cuts, economy, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, growth, Labour, Toby Perkins