In the last week or so a number of wealthy businessmen have given interviews in which they have criticised Ed Miliband and Labour for being anti-business. While I don’t particularly feel the urge to go in to bat for Miliband or Labour, this strikes me as ludicrous on two counts.
The first is the frankly laughable proposition that the minute differences between Labour and the Tories on their attitudes towards big business represents the difference between prosperity and catastrophe. I don’t know how any journalist can’t write up these interviews with a straight face. Of course Labour will show favouritism to different business people than the Tories have, but if Labour win, life ain’t going to get much tougher for big business. It may cost the top executives a few thousand pounds if the mansion tax goes through and if the 50p rate is brought back, and this is probably what these business people mean when they say Labour is ‘anti-business’.
The second count is the idea that big business people have any particular insight on how best to run an economy. If you look at the public statements made by Labour’s detractors, you won’t find much by way of reasoned argument. The first to break cover was Boots boss Stefano Pessina. Putting aside the fact he is not a UK citizen, resident or taxpayer, in the interview which generated the headlines, he says absolutely nothing of interest:
“The problem is, would they act that way or not? One thing is to threaten and to shout, but it is completely different to be in charge and to manage the country day to day,” he said.
Mr Pessina, a 73-year-old Italian who is estimated to have amassed a £7.5 billion fortune, declined to elaborate on which specific policies he disliked.
The Sunday Telegraph wrote this up as being “a major blow for Labour’s election campaign”. OK.
The FT went next, getting a comment from Carphone Warehouse co-founder Sir Charles Dunstone who said:
“As a business person I’m frightened of an environment where there isn’t sufficient emphasis put on growing the economy to grow tax receipts to spend more money,”
Frightened? His argument is basically trickle-down theory i.e. if businesses make lots of money there’ll be more tax money to spend on public services. Bullshit!
The last example, and probably the best came from Yo Sushi! founder and one time Dragon Simon Woodroffe, who came out with a whole bowl of wrongness on Newsnight:
“The world is right as it is. And we need to get on as a country, UK PLC, and make lots of money, be very successful …
You know, it scares me. I was a Labour Party supporter during the Blair-Brown thing and I was a supporter because I am a believer that politics needs to make money, that UK PLC needs to be a profitable business, and I thought they were a good management team.”
The world is right as it is? Stick that on the election posters! He uses the ghastly phrase UK PLC, making out a government should try and run things just like a business. Politics needs to make money? I don’t even know where to start with that one.
So I humbly submit that ‘business leaders’, although successful in their fields, have no more insight on how an economy should be run, or what the different party’s policies will mean for the general welfare of the population than you or I have, and their views should not be elevated beyond that of any other citizen. I think most people instinctively know this already, but Labour seem terrified and are now running round saying things like they are “aggressively pro-business”.