IS ED MILIBAND anti-business? After the way in which the Labour leader’s speech was reported yesterday, you would think he’d called for the public flogging of all business people.
Sir Digby Jones told the press that the speech was a kick in the teeth. Commentators aimed their barbs at the would-be PM, wondering what has got into him.
I have re-read the speech this morning and wonder whether we all heard the same thing. The speech is obviously not anti-business.
It is, however, clumsy and makes an attempt at distinctions that may play well with core Labour voters and those furious with bank and financial services companies, but are unlikely to impress many in business. But it isn’t anti-business.
The problem is Miliband’s attempt to distinguish what he calls “predatory” companies from the “producer” companies. This shouldn’t surprise us. The idea that “profiteering” is evil and making things inherently good is a nice bit of old Socialist thinking that has echoes all the way back to Karl Marx.
But Milliband uses it to colour our thinking of those who got us into trouble through the financial crisis. Bad as they were (and they were clearly bad), they also have their uses. (Declaration: I work in publishing, but it’s possible to argue I am still in work because of private equity and supportive banks).
Which is why the effort in this speech to cast them into the darkness is so awkward. We still needs the banks, and Labour will need them if they win another election.
Perhaps the underlying issue for Miliband is that he wants a radically re-cast and re- balanced economy, where a decent chunk of our GDP comes from inventing and making stuff.
No arguments there. Clearly, the exchequer had become over-reliant on financial services to put bread on the table. And here’s where Miliband’s speech went wrong for me. Instead of using the speech to get heavy on bankers, PE people and anyone else who profits from investing (they employ voters too, by the way), he should have focused on the “re-balancing” and “growth”.
He’s a politician, though, and he’s made the calculation that people (and his party’s membership) still want to hear about retribution. Focus on that and he will never sound like he’s comfortable with business – even when he is. My guess is his future meetings with business leaders will require some diplomatic dexterity.
Gavin Hinks is editor of Financial Director magazine
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