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From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Wednesday 4 February 2015 20.16 GMT
The way the corporate barons are carrying on, you’d think Ed Miliband was planning to do something terrifying to them. Day after day they’ve issued blood-curdling warnings about the catastrophe that would be unleashed by “Red Ed’s anti-business policies”.
The onslaught was kicked off by the Monaco-based chairman of Boots, Stefano Pessina, a man who even “disappointed” Boris Johnson by moving his headquarters to Switzerland to dodge tax. When the Labour leader hit back, saying people would take no lectures on voting from “someone who’s avoiding his taxes”, the floodgates opened.
The former Marks & Spencer boss and Conservative peer Stuart Rose piled in, damning Miliband as a “1970s throwback” whose business-bashing would lead to “shuttered shopfronts”. He was followed by a string of Tory-supporting tycoons who accused Miliband of trying to intimidate honest businessmen from speaking their minds. Now Ed Balls is in the dock for forgetting the name of the man who chaired Labour’s small business taskforce, as if proving his contemptuous attitude to profit and loss.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Balls and Labour’s business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, have in fact been bending over backwards to appease the corporate world. As Balls told a recent private gathering of financiers: “You might hear anti-City sentiment from Ed Miliband, but you’ll never hear it from me.”
That’s clearly not enough. As a warm-up for their corporate friends, the one-time titans of the New Labour era – for whom it will always be 1997, and no favour to the wealthy is ever too great – turned on their successors. First Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson made clear that today’s Labour’s leaders had foolishly departed from their script and should absolutely not be planning to tax properties worth over £2m.
Then the one-time Blairite ministers Alan Milburn and John Hutton rounded on Miliband and Labour’s health spokesman, Andy Burnham, for turning their backs on NHS “reform”, by which they meant privatisation. Since leaving office, Milburn has made a fortune out of private health companies moving into the NHS, and Hutton has glided through the revolving doors from defence to the nuclear industry. It’s precisely this record that remains a deadweight for Labour, sapping confidence that it would actually deliver the progressive change it promises. But what is most striking, given how modest Labour’s plans in fact are, is the intensity of the attacks from the people who actually run the country.
It’s a measure of the stranglehold the City and neoliberal ideology has on the British establishment that only the narrowest range of policies is acceptable. Low tax on the rich, light-touch regulation and privatisation are fine. Anything else – including mansion taxes, windfall levies on the banks, or unpleasant talk of predatory capitalism – is beyond the pale and will be dealt with by a captive media and a deep Tory well of corporate cash.
The former CBI chairman Digby Jones complained yesterday that Labour wasn’t interested in “wealth creators” – by which of course he meant the business elite, rather than the workforce, technicians and designers who actually do create it. But the wealth-creating record of the banks and corporations has been hopeless. Not only did they trigger the crash; they have also failed to invest, slashed productivity and dined off low pay and insecurity ever since.
That’s why any government serious about rebuilding the economy would have to confront those vested interests. That wouldn’t be remotely unpopular electorally. Three-fifths of the public wants the government to be “tougher on big business”. The last YouGov poll found that those who were thinking of voting Labour but weren’t yet certain wanted the party to end austerity (by 57% to 15%), “stand up to big business” and loosen the American alliance.
So the corporate bosses now attacking Miliband could well be doing the Labour leader a favour. True, they have shown their ability to scare and blackmail voters with threats to jobs and investment, most recently in the Scottish referendum. But right now, with the two main parties almost level pegging in the polls in the low 30s, the greatest electoral danger to Labour comes from the left, not the right. There is precious little voter traffic between Labour and Tories. But since the autumn, Labour has lost significant support to the Greens and the Scottish National Party (as the Tories have to Ukip).
Both those parties have positioned themselves to Labour’s left, as the political system fractures under the weight of years of austerity and the sense that none of the mainstream parties offer a real alternative. Their supporters may hope the parties can extract concessions from a Labour administration, including on austerity and Trident. But the brutal reality of Britain’s electoral system is that voters who want a more progressive government than Miliband is offering could easily end up with more David Cameron – and the most savage attacks yet on public services and living standards.
On current arithmetic, the issue is not whether Labour can win a majority in May, but whether it can be the largest party. Scotland alone could deliver Westminster to Cameron unless Labour can win back Scottish voters.
In Europe, the spell of austerity has been broken. The election of the leftwing Syriza-led government in Greece and the explosion of support for the radical Podemos in Spain show that the crisis is polarising politics to the left as well as right. Britain’s experience has been less extreme, but polarisation is happening here too. What that means for Labour is that, far from cringing before the business barons, it has to be tougher. It has to be unequivocal that, to drive up investment and deliver for the majority, a Miliband government would curb vested corporate interests and the pocket-stuffing of the wealthy elite.
Instead of offering an austerity-lite that enthuses nobody, it has to make clear it will use the £30bn fiscal leeway it has left itself to change economic course. The polling is clear enough. Labour has to move left, or it will lose the election. That goes against conventional political wisdom, of course. But we’re living in different times and conventions are being overturned. The ice is breaking in Europe – it needs to break in Britain too.
Labour is aggressively pro-business, says Tristram Hunt. Shadow education secretary responds to attacks on party as David Cameron says Labour has ‘sneering hatred of business’: here.