Given the nature of politics in the last few weeks, you wouldn’t believe that the election campaign kicks off in earnest today, as Parliament dissolves and our political leaders hit the doorsteps. It feels like they’ve been campaigning for months.
I’ve just left a speech given by Ed Miliband at Bloomberg launching Labour’s “Business Manifesto”, and his message is that “Labour means Business”.
The thrust of his speech, and the clear dividing line between him and the Prime Minister is on Europe. Whilst the Prime Minister is committed to a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, the Leader of the Opposition will not countenance such a position (unless there is a significant transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels in the next Parliament).
Generally, business is quite receptive to Miliband’s position on the issue. Businesses of all shapes and sizes, according to opinion polling and the letters pages of the Financial Times, feel a referendum on EU membership would quell inwards investment in the UK economy, and destabilise sterling at a time when the British economy is benefiting from both.
Observers of British politics will note that this seems to be a rare outbreak of agreement between Miliband and business leaders. On just about every other issue, business leaders are lined up and ready to criticise the Labour leader for his perceived attitude to wealth creation and free markets. And even on the EU issue this morning, Siemens and Kellogs have distanced themselves from an advert Labour published in national newspapers, which quoted their board members.
However, the message from Miliband’s camp is loud and clear. On Corporation Tax, or Business Rates, on vocational education, or energy markets, Labour is planning reforms which will help create an environment in which business, particular the SMEs, can thrive and drive the British economy. In particular, there is a commitment to cut and freeze Business Rates for SMEs, and a commitment to back a new independent infrastructure commission, and a British Investment Bank with a regional focus.
This seems to be the first step in a concerted effort to woo business leaders, an effort that probably should have started months ago. However, it will take more than one speech to change the view of businesses. Labour has five and a half weeks to convince business leaders it is fit to govern.