Should the Tories temper their exultation?
A letter to the Telegraph signed by 103 senior business figures has made headlines across the UK today.
In the letter, business leaders including the likes of Sir Stuart Rose and Baroness Karren Brady outline their reasons for supporting the Conservatives’ economic policy, saying that “a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment.”
It is of course a welcome turn of events for the Tories who have had a few set-backs as they’ve launched their election campaign. The debate today is now squarely on the economy, which is where the Tories want it.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna has described the letter as “nothing new”.
But will the letter have an impact on the polls?
Here are three reasons why the Conservatives might want to temper their exultation:
Public perception of big business remains an issue
The economic crash spawned a surge in anti-business sentiment, giving rise to terms such as “banker-bashing” and fuelling debate over the role of big-business in society.
Corporations have a long way to go to win back any public confidence they once had, and the letter to the Telegraph may set back that process.
Big business is almost as unpopular as the political class. Only option for Labour: make a virtue of being attacked and really go for it.
— Iain Martin (@iainmartin1) April 1, 2015
Is the letter really such a surprise?
George Osborne has described the letter as “unprecedented”, however, is anyone really so surprised that executives from some of the country’s largest companies are on board with policies including lower corporation tax – policies that would enable them to make more money?
According to Sky’s Sophie Ridge, the letter was actually organised by the Tories.
Understand that Conservative Party Co Chairman Andrew Feldman helped organise today’s letter from business leaders in the Telegraph
— Sophy Ridge (@SophyRidgeSky) April 1, 2015
And funnily enough, on exactly the same date before the election last year, a strikingly similar letter outlining business leaders’ support for the Tories was published in the Telegraph. Coincidence? Unprecedented?
The Tories 2010 letter from “business leaders” also appeared on the evening of 31st March. Talk about a playbook. http://t.co/4Cr5oKKec6
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) March 31, 2015
The question is whether the public are surprised enough to change their voting behaviour as a result. Could that happen?
Difficult to imagine anything LESS unprecedented than hordes of FTSE 100 bosses supporting Conservative economic policy.
— Giles Wilkes (@Gilesyb) April 1, 2015
Preaching to the converted
The Telegraph has a largely conservative readership, so the impact the headlines will have there is probably minimal. Of far more interest is the BBC’s decision to run it on their homepage. The supposedly independent broadcaster has had the story leading the news website all morning.
However, the outcome of widespread coverage may not work in the Conservatives’, or indeed the businesses’ favour, instead drawing attention to the tactics used by the rich and powerful to maintain their elevated positions.
Several people have suggested that Labour could turn this to their advantage, as the electorate remain suspicious of big business.
Are the claims accurate?
Finally, how accurate are the claims that “a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investeconomment”?
According to statistics from website TradingInvestment.com and the ONS, direct investment in the UK has fallen under the coalition government.
— Luke Thomas (@welshboy82) April 1, 2015
Elsewhere, a report by the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston highlights research indicating that on the whole, economists disagree that “austerity policies of the coalition government have had a positive effect on aggregate economic activity (employment and GDP) in the UK.”
So it’s not curtains for Miliband and co. just yet. However, his party evidently has a lot of work to do if it wants to regain the support from big business won by Tony Blair. But perhaps it just doesn’t want to.