by Samuel Dale
One of the reasons Labour won in 1997 was the prawn cocktail offensive.
Labour ministers launched a three year schmoozathon with the City and business leaders.
It worked. When the Tories brought out their New Labour, New Danger fear campaign it had no bite.
Business leaders had listened to New Labour and would give them a chance.
The Tories couldn’t build a coalition of business leaders to make dire warnings about Labour as they had done in past elections.
Ed Miliband’s Labour party has undergone no sustained prawn cocktail offensive.
Instead it is at open war with business promising a waterfall of new taxes and regulations with no upside. It’s all stick and no carrot.
Tobocco firms, energy companies, rail operators, recruiters, hedge funds, banks, Sports Direct and pension companies are all in Labour cross-hairs to name but a few.
There are two serious consequences to the relentless attack on companies. Both point to serious political naïvety.
Firstly, when the Tories try their scare tactics next year they will find a rush of business leaders to join the cause. It will add bite to the attacks and damage Labour.
The best example is the Scottish referendum campaign when big businesses and employers made decisive interventions in the final few weeks.
Firms promised re-locations, job losses and market chaos. Voters were scared.
The same will happen next May. Big fund managers will warn about pulling investment under a Milibamd government, pension providers will raise the alarm about infrastructure projects and financial services firms will warn about re-locating and jobs.
In the heat of an election, it will be very damaging and support the Tory fear narrative. Business leaders are major employers and trusted more than politicians.
Companies may not have a vote but their employees do, millions of them.
Project Fear worked in Scotland and it worked in 2010 when businesses derailed the general election campaign by opposing Labour’s proposed 1% hike in employers’ national insurance.
It will work again at the 2015 general election under a Tory banner.
There are some in Labour who understand this. Chukka Ummuna gets it but he’s a lonely voice.
Labour is clinging to its no EU referendum policy as it’s sole pro-business policy. It won’t be enough to stop a backlash.
Secondly, let’s assume Labour scrapes home next May. How is it going to implement its sweeping reforms without building business allies?
Tony Blair introduced the minimum wage in the teeth of employer opposition but he had built a network of supporters. He had crucial allies to help drive it home.
Look at Andrew Lansley’s failed health reforms as an example of what can happen when industry is united in opposition.
Miliband needs to build bridges if the scale of his ambition is to be realised.
He won’t change culture and behaviour among employers without a charm offensive.
Sweeping criticism of predator businesses and the profit motive is not going to win friends and influence people in the private sector.
If Labour wins then business allies will be hard to come by, making reform of genuinely bad practices an uphill struggle and costing valuable political capital and energy.
Ultimately, Miliband has a shocking relationship with British business both large and small.
Miliband and his team haven’t even tried to bring employers onside.
There has made no prawn cocktail dinners. No serious attempt to understand legitimate concerns from leaders about being over-taxed and over-regulated. No attempt to understand the struggles of running a company and turning a profit.
Parliamentary Labour candidates struggle to find any donors from local business owners these days. They have loved away from the party under Ed.
A serious One Nation politician would include business interests in its policy debate. More importantly, it’s naive, and misguided politics that could prove costly.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist