Labour under pressure over business stance

Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Picture: John Devlin

Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Picture: John Devlin

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LABOUR has come under attack from another senior business figure who claimed the party’s approach “scares” him while a former trade minister accused the party’s leadership of failing to speak up for wealth creators.

Simon Woodroffe, the founder of restaurant chain Yo! Sushi and a former Labour supporter, said he was worried about the way Ed Miliband had targeted business leaders.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls insisted the party was pro-business - but he was unable to remember the full name of a businessman who has been advising Labour.

Former CBI director general Lord Jones, who served as a minister under Gordon Brown, said Mr Balls’ memory lapse was an indication of a “much bigger problem with business” for Labour.

In the latest criticism of Labour’s approach, Mr Woodroffe said Mr Miliband was saying “look at these fat cats making lots of money, it should be for the workers”.

He continued: “Actually, I think the fat cats, generally, sometimes it annoys me, but they pay their taxes, you know.

“Actually, they are paying over 50% a lot of the time with this new cap on national insurance.

“The world is right as it is. And we need to get on as a country, UK PLC, and make lots of money, be very successful.”

The businessman, who has donated to senior Tory MP Oliver Letwin since supporting Labour, told BBC2’s Newsnight political parties had to support business.

Asked what he thought of Labour’s current approach, Mr Woodroffe said: “You know, it scares me.

“I was a Labour Party supporter during the Blair-Brown thing and I was a supporter because I am a believer that politics needs to make money, that UK PLC needs to be a profitable business, and I thought they were a good management team.

“So, that’s what I’m looking for. Now, I’m not from the homelands of Labour, I’m not even from the homelands of the Conservatives.

“But I want somebody who really appreciates that business has got to succeed first before we can share out the money.”

Mr Woodroffe’s comments followed criticism from corporate bosses including Boots chief Stefano Pessina, who suggested it could be a “catastrophe” if Mr Miliband became prime minister.

Shadow chancellor Mr Balls insisted that while the Conservatives had “lurched to the right”, Labour was “the centre ground, pro-business party today”.

Names

But he failed to remember the full name of Bill Thomas, the former HP and EDS executive who is leading Labour’s small business taskforce.

Appearing on Newsnight, Mr Balls said he had come from a dinner with “a number” of business figures who backed Labour.

Asked who was there, Mr Balls said: “Bill ... the former chief executive of EDS, whom I was talking to just a few moments ago ... he is a big supporter of ours.”

Pressed on his name, he said: “To be honest his surname has just gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night.”

Mr Balls later said on Twitter: “I know, I know. Bill Thomas, our Small Business Taskforce Chair, will never forgive me. It’s an age thing!”

Lord Jones, a crossbench peer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was a problem with the tone adopted by Labour’s leadership rather than specific policies.

He said: “They have not got the support that New Labour used to have years ago, the reason being that business wants the mood music of this nation to be in favour of creating wealth.

“It’s not about a personal policy about whether you are taxed at 50%, it’s not about a mansion tax, it’s about this concept that at the moment you are not hearing Ed Miliband or Ed Balls or the others standing up and saying ‘creating wealth is a good thing’.”

Lord Jones said industry liked Labour’s approach over the European Union, which avoided the “uncertainty” created by a referendum, and he accepted that the party could be seeking a political advantage by appearing to stand up to big business.

He said: “I don’t blame the politicians for playing to the gallery of the people who are going to walk into a voting booth and vote.”

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