Labour accused over business row

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Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A senior Labour MP has accused the party leadership of bringing a public row with business leaders on its own head by failing to engage properly with the sector.

Former minister Geoffrey Robinson said that far from being “anti-business”, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna were “utterly New Labour in their approach to this”.

But to have allowed a “mood music” to develop where a string of senior corporate figures felt they should launch stinging public criticisms suggested they were guilty of a “terrible, neglectful omission”, he said.

Labour has suffered a sustained attack over recent days by a string of top executives, after Monaco-based Boots’ chief Stefano Pessina suggested it could be a “catastrophe” if Ed Miliband became prime minister.

The party leader’s fightback against what he called an “unholy alliance” between business and the Tories in which he suggested voters would not listen to “someone who is avoiding his taxes”, led to claims he wanted to stifle debate.

Further attacks – by ex-M&S boss and Conservative peer Stuart Rose among others – were dismissed as a co-ordinated party political assault ahead of May’s general election.

Mr Robinson said a warning from Lord Rose – “a very good man” – that Labour was ‘blowing apart the consensus’ and putting out a ‘drum beat of anti-business rhetoric’ – was “way out of line with the reality”.

But he told BBC2’s Daily Politics: “If Stuart Rose can say that there is something obviously wrong with our communication with business.

He told the programme: “We are for the consensus, we are for the attitudes of constructive engagement with business and Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna have been out there really preaching that to business.

“If they haven’t done a good job it’s time they did.

“They are still New Labour, all the policies, all the statements on business, if they haven’t given that impression its a terrible, neglectful omission on their part.

“I think Balls and Umunna – they happen to be good friends of mine – both of them have to get out there and engage more positively and constructively with the business leaders.”

Mr Robinson said Labour under Tony Blair, under whom he served as paymaster general, had been able to sell its policies to business leaders, even though some were less attractive to the sector than any promised by Ed Miliband.

Contrasting Mr Miliband’s energy price freeze with Mr Blair’s windfall tax on the profits of privatised utilities, he said: “Nothing could be more anti-business than that.

“But because we approached it right and we handled it right we in fact got the support of business for it.”

He went on: “The policies are right; the mood music is wrong.

“We have got to engage. We are not anti-business, we are not anti-trade union. We are for both of them.

“I don’t know how it’s happened but it needs to be corrected.”

Lord Myners, a former chairman of Marks & Spencer, and Treasury minister in Gordon Brown’s administration, has said the party needs to “talk in a language that business understands”.

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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