Sajid Javid's warning to bad businesses is another raid on Labour territory

In a Miliband-esque flourish, the business secretary declared: "Free enterprise is not a free-for-all". 


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Sajid Javid is perhaps the most vigorous champion of the free market in the current cabinet. The business secretary has a portrait of Margaret Thatcher on his office wall (David Cameron preferred the centrist Harold Macmillan) and is an unashamed admirer of libertarian heroine Ayn Rand.

In his speech to the Conservative conference, the potential leadership candidate, sounded plenty of traditional notes. He derided governments for "sidelining and marginalising business" over the last 20 years, "including five years of Vince Cable". But Javid's address also contained a striking warning to companies. "I am shamelessly pro-business," he said. "But, being pro-business does not mean that you turn a blind eye to bad practice. Whether you're a bank rigging interest rates, a car manufacturer cheating on emissions, or a company not paying your fair share of tax. Be warned: we will come after you. Because free enterprise is not a free-for-all." Javid's rebuke showed a recognition that popular support for capitalism will only be sustained if malpractice is addressed. The Conservatives' ambition is to claim this political territory for themselves, further marginalising Labour. The party of capitalism is framing itself as the only party capable of reforming it. 

The other notable feature of Javid's speech was his lukewarm support for the EU. "Our message could not be clearer. We will re-negotiate and give the British people the right to decide," he said. That formulation leaves plenty of room for the eurosceptic Javid to back withdrawal. 

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.