Miliband’s bridge building with business should be applauded

by Jonathan Todd

The case for augmenting Labour’s cost of living campaigning is almost as old as this campaigning. The advantages accruing to Labour from this campaigning are challenged by those that accumulate to the Conservatives from the more general economic improvement. This improvement encourages optimism among businesses, which some feel Labour threatens.

Labour needs to reassure these businesses and the voters who work for them that Labour poses no such threat. That, as Pat McFadden and Alan Milburn have both put it, Labour is as concerned with generating wealth as with distributing it. It is, as Chuka Umunna is quoted in a recent FT article headlined ‘Labour seeks to reposition as pro-business party’, a fairly academic decision how you can cut the pie more fairly if you haven’t increased the size of the pie first.

That Umunna is clearly right, while business fears that this is not understood by Labour, makes the repositioning heralded by the FT welcome. We are now in what The Sunday Times described as “a week long campaign to mend fences with business leaders”. No matter what big policy announcements this week may bring, Labour should not expect that they alone will secure business support.

Fifty small press releases matter more than a big policy announcement, as the ex party adviser Steve Van Riel recently observed. If Labour wants better relations with business, and I’m pleased that we do, we shouldn’t think that these can be cemented in a week, no matter how big our policy announcements. Such relations require diligent cultivation over the long-term. Which the activities of this week should be a staging post on.

It is to be hoped that Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet are up for this. Because there will be those in our party who will implore them not to be. Similar protestations, as Uncut has noted, have blunted moves to the centre on welfare. Concerted efforts to win business support would be another move to the centre, which is valuable enough that Miliband should be prepared to endure internal criticisms.

As Miliband strives for a welfare system that rewards work and a policy mix that grows businesses, some party members will see what this entails as a capitulation. Even those who have most strongly disagreed with the Miliband prospectus – for example, Dan Hodges – are uneasy about departure from it. But for different reasons from those more enamoured with it.

“Ed Miliband has to run on Ed Miliband’s platform,” Hodges has recently argued. “Ed Miliband has to lose on Ed Miliband’s platform. And then, and only then, can Labour move on from Ed Miliband.”

Miliband doing the hard yards needed to win over business, which I would applaud every step of the way, is not what Hodges understands by his platform. While I welcome Miliband providing a centrist offer, which would necessarily involve pro-business language and policy, Hodges doesn’t recognise Miliband as a credible advocate of such an offer. On this view, this lack of credibility dooms a centrist Miliband pitch to general election failure and succeeds only in laying the ground for the left to say after this defeat, “Ed was ahead in the polls when Ed was Ed. Ed would have won as Ed and only lost because he was captured by Blairites.”

As much as I can envisage a scenario in which things like this come to be said, the scenario in which Miliband becomes prime minister doesn’t involve such remarks. And this prime ministerial scenario remains within Miliband’s reach. If he makes the right calls. Which includes taking the steps required to have Labour be and be seen to be a pro-business, pro-growth party.

Some of these steps are being taken this week – for example, Ed Balls began the week pledging to keep corporation tax low. I welcome these steps not only for their electoral importance but also for their strategic value, which was well articulated recently by Michael Mandel when writing for Policy Network on pro-growth progressivism.

“The major advanced countries,” Mandel notes, “have seen their real per-capita GDP rise at a depressingly low 0.8% rate over the past ten years. By comparison, the annual rate of growth was 1.8% in the ten years ending 2007 and 2.6% in the 1980s.” With Miliband writing in The Sunday Times to bemoan “a crisis in trust for institutions ranging from our banks and some of our big corporations to politics itself”, we should recognise that this feeble per-capita GDP growth rate is a contributory factor.

This rate means, according to Mandel, “absent more robust growth, the politics of redistribution becomes an empty exercise in moral posturing … It also fosters an “us versus them” mentality that, by reinforcing polarisation, can only make it harder to build consensus around economic initiatives that benefit everyone.”

Issuing the fifty small press releases, so to speak, that will successfully reposition Labour as a pro-business party will bring us closer to a Labour government. Irrespective of whether this government arrives next year or not, the politics of “us versus them” will always be a cul-de-sac for Labour. Which the initiatives of this week are a step away from and toward a consensus around economic initiatives that benefit everyone.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut 

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4 Responses to “Miliband’s bridge building with business should be applauded”

  1. paul barker says:

    Two points occur to me, too little, too late & July 10th – the Day of Action. Senior Labour/Union figures will be lining up to denounce Big Business/The City & call for yet more strikes. How will that look ?

  2. Ex Labour says:

    ” a week long campaign to mend fences”. I’m afraid it will take much more than this to wash away 4 years of venom and bile from Miliband towards businesses and corporations in this country. Does he think them stupid or gullable ? Does he think the public are also ?

    Of course he should want better relations with business, but it really is too late. He could start by shutting up about bankers and banks and preditary capitalism, he sounds like a broken record.

    He and Balls have no credibility and with the comrades on the left in the unions will ensure that public view will endure to the GE.

  3. Madasafish says:

    Issuing the fifty small press releases, so to speak, that will successfully reposition Labour as a pro-business party will bring us closer to a Labour government”

    Actions speak louder than words. So Labour is going to denounce UNITE when it has its next strike?

    Delusional… is the kindest description.

  4. Michael Taylor says:

    Difficult to know how to find a road back if even now Milliband and his advisors can make that error about jobs growth. Worse, even now they’re trying somehow to claim they’re right, and somehow they have better data than the ONS. Confirms all my worst suspicions about Miliband (and, frankly, Labour) – that they’re arrogant, delusional, utterly M25-centric and, above all, incurious about Britain. And, I should mention, insulting to pretty much everyone outside London, and particularly people in its supposed Northern heartlands. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a more shameful and stupid error by a major political figure. Heads should roll. It’s too late to replace Miliband, but the collection of dolts who look after him need deep-sixing quick.

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