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Miliband champions business. Now he needs business to champion Miliband

The Labour leader's vision of "responsible capitalism" would gain credibility if he could find more responsible capitalists.

The Labour leader's vision of "responsible capitalism" would gain credibility if he could find more responsible capitalists.
Ed Miliband visits the Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ed Miliband's speech today on business is being presented by some as a desperate repositioning. After years spent bashing the corporate world, the Labour leader, it is said, has finally seen the light and launched his own prawn cocktail offensive. Having gone "tough on welfare" (with a policy that was presented by Labour as progressive but spun by the media as punitive), he is now going soft on the City.

Labour sources argue, with some justification, that this is wide of the mark. Rather than abandoning his previous stances, Miliband is merely emphasising, as he has before, how tackling "broken markets" such as banking and energy would benefit both businesses and consumers. As he will say at Policy Network's "Inclusive Prosperity" conference (hosted at the Science Museum): "Entrepreneurship is key to our future success. That requires dynamic, competitive markets in every area that can serve our aim of the race to the top our country needs. So the next Labour government will be pro-competition: reforming markets that don’t work, not defending them.

"A healthy, competitive financial services industry is vital to the health of all of our businesses. That’s why we are determined to reform the banks with more competition so that businesses can get access to the finance they need to succeed in the future. And we will also reform other markets when we need to - including energy so it works better for the customer and better for businesses."

But there has been an unmistakable shift in tone. Miliband is unlikely to speak today of "predators and producers" (a distinction some in Labour regarded as dangerously crude), still less of "bringing back socialism". Aware that his party has often appeared preoccupied with how wealth is distributed, rather than how it is created (a particular concern of Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna), he will invite business to join him in a "shared mission" to "create wealth, jobs and profits [emphasis mine] for the future".

It is a smart pitch, supported by policies such as devolving money and powers to city regions, establishing a National Infrastructure Commission (to tackle Britain's "chronic short-termism"), building a more skilled workforce by improving vocational education, and ruling out an arbitrary EU referendum. But it is one that would be more persuasive if Miliband could produce some business leaders who support his vision. In the eyes of the voters, being pro-business is like being ladylike: if you have to say you are, you probably ain't. His word alone is not enough. For the electorate to be convinced that Miliband is pro-business, he needs business leaders to declare that they are pro-Miliband. Yet 10 months away from the election, it is unlikely that a single FTSE 100 boss will endorse Labour.

This is hardly Miliband's fault alone. One might reasonably ask of the City: where is the British equivalent of Warren Buffett or Lilliane Bettencourt? But the awkward truth for Labour is that "responsible capitalism" is a lot harder to sell when you're short of responsible capitalists.