Ed Miliband visits the Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney. Photograph: Getty Images.
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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.

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.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.