Labour must mean business at the next election

14th October, 2013 10:20 am

Have you met “Laura Smith” yet? She’s the rather unconvincing star of the latest ad for Halifax bank. Well, I say “ad for Halifax bank”. If you watch this clip you’ll see that (spoiler alert!) for the first 45 seconds out of a minute of costly air time there’s no mention of banking at all. It looks more like an ad for an airline. This is where we’ve got to today: businesses that pay for expensive ads but who are too embarrassed to say what business they are really in.

Business is on the back foot. And in many cases deservedly so. Clearly the banks, which we’ve all bailed out, still have a lot of work to do in terms of changing culture and working practices. Investment banks seem barely changed at all. Don’t take my word for it – take a look at Joris Luyendijk’s brilliant banking blog on the Guardian web site.

But it’s not just the banks. A trip down the high street can often be a pretty depressing experience. Badly managed, demotivated staff are doing repetitive, unexciting jobs for poor rates of pay. Phoning up a call centre can be a grim “customer experience” too: patience and a robust sense of humour are required. This is not to blame the employees, of course. The businesses they are working for are sometimes just not good enough.

As I argue in a piece for The Independent today there is currently a dearth of inspiring leadership in British business. Yes, times are hard, and markets (please don’t call it a “global race”) can be competitive. But there is no need for the defensiveness and even grumpiness that we see in business circles. Balance sheets have been restored since the depths of the recession, and British businesses are sitting on a lot of cash – hundreds of billions according to some estimates – which they are not investing, either in new staff or new capacity and R&D.

A Financial Times leader today calls on Ed Miliband to tone down what the paper sees as his “distaste” for business. The accusation is unfair. Challenging the energy firms to do better by its customers does not imply distaste for business – merely a desire to protect customers from exploitation by an oligopoly. The 20 month freeze in prices is designed to find time to make the energy market work better. Making markets work better is hardly the policy goal of a subversive. Miliband’s initiative deserves a better and more thoughtful response from the energy companies than it has received so far. Threats of black-outs and investment strikes are no use at all.

It is true that at the last election no significant business figure endorsed the Labour Party, and it’s equally true that it would be good to avoid a repeat of that situation in 2015. Labour should not be an anti-business party. As John Monks, the former TUC general secretary, observed many years ago: “We are all capitalists now.”

But when capitalism is in crisis, as it has been and arguably still is, it sometimes falls to social democrats to help bring it back to health. So Ed Miliband should not be put off by some of the harrumphing in certain quarters, no matter how distinguished the harrumphers are. The challenge now is to show how Labour wants the mixed economy to work better. Labour must mean business even if, sadly, some business leaders still don’t appear to.

  • Dave Smith

    I’m not a ‘social democrat’ I’m a socialist. And whilst I understand the need to ‘tolerate’ a mixed economy it shouldn’t be the end goal but just the beginning. A future Labour Party should promote more big business becoming cooperatives, especially promote and help such endeavours when they wish to start and flourish. Trade union rights should be restored so trade unions can sensible negotiate on behalf of the workers they represent in all sectors. Because when you raise the standards of the working classes you raise the standards of all in society. We should also not be afraid of saying load and clear that we will renationalise all the utility companies as it is immoral for them to be in private hands along with rail and other public transport.

    We also need to make it clear that the Royal Mail will also be renationalised ASAP. Let’s grow some balls! This is what the electorate are crying out for. Not some wishy-washy “we are all capitalist” crap being espoused by ‘social democrats’ if these are you opinions then go to that party set up for you. The libdems! Labour should be about offering real change and not just tinkering!

  • http://couloumat.co.uk/ David Parker

    Well, we have had a mixed economy since 1945. Generalities about making it work do not address the key question of what the mix should be. Experience as well as socialist values have made it clear that there is a very reasonable case for the following in one form or another to belong to the public sector and be publically accountable: transport, energy, health, education, housing. If the Labour leadership were to pluck up the courage to say so it would be better received than they imagine.

Latest

  • Comment The Labour leadership contest: too much politics and not enough personality

    The Labour leadership contest: too much politics and not enough personality

    Our recent prime ministers were not elected to lead their parties following general election defeats, and there are many problems with electing leaders whilst on the rebound. One of the biggest is that everyone is still in General Election Mode, presenting manifestos rather than their qualities as a leader. Policies and ideas are not wedded to any one person – any candidate could institute a policy suggested by any other candidate. Having good ideas qualifies one for the top table, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment What lessons does Lynton Crosby have for Labour?

    What lessons does Lynton Crosby have for Labour?

    After May’s general election, it appeared everyone in the party who tweeted or blogged was sure they knew why Labour had lost. By some weird coincidence, these opinions always seemed to mirror the prejudices of the author. You know the type of thing – our policies were too right wing, our policies were too left wing, our policies were too centrist, etc. Not very enlightening. So, to get a more balanced view, I turned to Lynton Crosby. I appreciate that’s […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour is in “mortal danger” – “we need to save it again”, says Peter Mandelson

    Labour is in “mortal danger” – “we need to save it again”, says Peter Mandelson

    Peter Mandelson has argued that Labour is in “mortal danger” . In an article in the Financial Times (£), the former cabinet minister and Labour campaigns director has warned against a Jeremy Corbyn victory. If the Islington North MP wins the leadership election, “that would be a very bad outcome for anyone who cares about fairness in our society or Britain’s place in the world”, Mandelson writes. Mandelson has called for a tightening of the rules over the leadership election […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Attracting people who didn’t vote at the last election is key to winning in 2020, say LabourList readers

    Attracting people who didn’t vote at the last election is key to winning in 2020, say LabourList readers

    In recent weeks there has been building concern from some over who has been deemed eligible to vote in the leadership election. Under new rules, members of the public can sign up as party ‘supporters’ for £3, this buys them a vote in the leadership election. However, it’s been reported that some Conservative and other non-Labour supporters have been given a vote. Labour say they have a vigorous vetting process to weed such people out. Yet some Labour supporters and […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Jeremy Corbyn dismisses “hysteria” over his policies and says he’ll defeat the Tories in 2020 with “people’s politics”

    Jeremy Corbyn dismisses “hysteria” over his policies and says he’ll defeat the Tories in 2020 with “people’s politics”

    Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed the “hysteria” and “deliberate misrepresentation” of his campaign’s policies and said that he is committed to ensuring that the Labour party defeat the Tories in 2020 with “people’s politics”. The leadership candidate has argued that despite attacks directed at his campaigns policies, the message his team are sending out is “resonating”. In an article in The Times (£), Corbyn has brushed off the idea that his policies are “extreme”, which has been suggested by some Labour […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit