by Kevin Meagher
It seems gesture politics is alive and well, although the latest outbreak has popped up in an unexpected place.
We learn today that the Labour party wants more candidates for elected office to come from a business background. It wants to extend the future candidates programme and get sitting MPs to mentor potential applicants from business. They won’t even need to be party members, just sympathetic to Labour’s ‘values’.
Of course the days when Labour candidates overwhelmingly came from trade unions, local government, universities or public sector management are disappearing. The last decade has shown that people who support Labour now work everywhere.
We should embrace that plurality. It is a success for Labour’s ambition to be a true ‘one nation’ party. And ‘business’ covers everything from executives of blue chip companies through to one-man band start-ups.
All oppositions have to reach out to build goodwill and support and it is right to do so. And Labour’s business reception in the City tonight is a good and useful thing to do.
But the announcement about candidates feels like a piece of crude brand positioning – an attempt to counter the charge that Labour is somehow anti-business. If that’s the real motive then there are better ways of going about responding to it.
If we need a concrete message for tonight’s business reception, how about promising that missives from HM Revenue and Customs will be written in plain English? That would be greeted with hosannas from every small business in the land. Or perhaps reverse the closure of HMRC front counter offices? Or how about a dedicated account manager for each small business?
Meet, talk and discuss with business by all means, but offering special access into the party’s selection processes is as abasing as it is pointless. Abasing because it sends the signal ‘we don’t – cannot – understand business without you’ and pointless because the take-up will be so low.
Do we really think there will be a rush from the executive corridors of Britain to spend evenings in residents’ association meetings or to take pay cuts to serve as MPs?