Advice for Ed: Celebrate the best of British business as well as criticising the worst

by Paul Crowe

One of the defining moments of the 2010 general election came when the Tories unveiled their letter from business leaders backing their cut to national insurance (NI) contributions.

It was the ultimate dividing line for economic competence: on one side was a parade of Britain’s commercial leaders, on the other a Labour prime minister, isolated and unsupported.

The issue at hand was irrelevant. A small cut to national insurance contributions was not going to make any difference to the economy given the depth of problems, but the symbolism was catastrophic for Labour. It’s hard to claim to have the answer to revitalising the economy when Britain’s captains of industry are uniformly saying “no you don’t mate.”

There are many flaws with British business and no one would claim that a series of self-interested chief executives, eager to reduce their payroll costs, have a monopoly on the truth for economic revival.  But it is a powerful image to voters in the heat of a general election campaign: for those responsible for some of this country’s biggest high street brands to be criticising Labour so publically.

It was a return to the bad old days of the 1980s when to be in business meant being a Tory.

I run a business and in my day to day work I deal with a variety of board members across many companies, large, medium and small.  Politics isn’t at the top of most businessmen and women’s list of concerns, the general view is that this is a global recession and it is the global economy that will determine our future.

But, on those occasions when discussion does turn to domestic politics, it does not make for happy listening for a Labour party member.

Today’s Labour party is seen as resolutely anti-business. There is general uncertainty about our commitment to tackle the deficit and some very specific fears about the party’s eagerness to believe the worst about business; to regulate, to break-up and to tax.

In terms of our support in business, Labour certainly hasn’t improved since the election in 2010 and if anything is now in a worse position.

I know for many in the Labour party, the current approach is music to their ears. And it is true that there is much that is wrong with business and action is needed. But the focus from Ed Miliband seems to be exclusively on what is wrong with business, when, actually, there is a lot that is right.

Since the last election, the private sector has created 1.2 million new jobs, we have some of the most efficient manufacturing industry in the world and are still the most innovative and competitive nation for financial services.

This country’s capacity to recover is entirely dependent on business.  Roughly 4 in 5 jobs and a similar proportion of GDP is accounted for by the private sector. Government action can help but whether the public sector spends £5bn more or less in a particular year is ultimately of minimal relevance in an economy worth £1.44tn.

When Ed Miliband gets up to speak later today, he needs to do more than just acknowledge the importance of business in half a sentence before moving onto the litany of ills currently being committed by evil capitalists.

He needs to celebrate the successes of British business, give specific examples; show that business can be a force for good, not just exploitation.  He should tell real stories of how good businesses have made a difference in this country, and what Labour intends to do to reward and support these examples of excellence.

Don’t just intone platitudes about wanting to back business, tell us how, in a way that means something for entrepreneurs up and down the country.

Balance is needed but that is the last thing we have.

Without it, the one thing that we can all be sure of is that at the next election there will be another letter from the Tories with a long list of businessmen supporting them and, yet again, uncomfortable silence in response from Labour.

Paul Crowe is an entrepreneur and Labour Uncut’s business columnist. He is a director of a business that was recently placed among the top 40 fastest growing British private companies in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100

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