103 business leaders have endorsed the Conservatives in a letter to the Telegraph. Does it matter?
Like Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, you can see what you want in it. Labour optimists will point out that many of the signatories are Conservative peers and donors. It’s likely that the tax affairs of some of the other signatories will now come into the spotlight, which some party insiders believe will harm the Tories.
Labour strategists, who have long-anticipated this attack, also hope that the focus on their offer to business earlier this week – lower business rates for small businesses, no destabilising In-Out referendum on Europe for the big corporates – will sufficiently muddy the waters that the row doesn’t do any damage to the party’s standing in the polls.
But pessimists within the party will point to the presence of Duncan Bannatyne, who warned against a Cameron government in 2010, or Sir Charles Dunstone, who endorsed Labour in 2005. They fear that the support of business leaders provides a kitemark of credibility that the party cannot afford to do without.
A lot hinges on how Labour react to the letter. A week-long row with a few – many low-profile – business leaders is unlikely to do Labour much direct damage. But a week spent on the rather abstract question of whether Ed Miliband is a danger to business is a week spent away from the party’s issues. As one MP commented to me during the party’s last row with business: “I doubt any of my constituents heard about it. But it certainly meant they didn’t hear about the paternity stuff.”
Just as the party’s announcement on extending paternity leave was overshadowed by Miliband’s clash with Boots chief Stefano Pessina, it could be that this row blots out any headlines for Labour’s strengthened pledge to curb zero-hours contracts. That’s far more worrying than any number of letters to the Telegraph.