Playing FTSE with the Chiefs
What’s that noise? It’s the sound of 100 chickens coming home to roost. The poetic irony of Labour being monstered by a cabal of business leaders egged-on by a hostile press will not be lost on many. The fact that it’s brimming with Tory peers, tax dodgers, and blacklisters, like John Morgan, CEO of Morgan Sindall construction firm, makes it no less sweet. Dodgy geezers like Aidan Heavey and Cassie Hutchings and folk like ‘Beyond Petroleum’s’ Bob Dudley, who you’ll recall popped up last year explaining “Great Britain is great and it ought to stay together”.
As Mark Steel points out, the list includes the likes of: “Rooney Anand, who was chief executive of Greene King brewers when it was taken to court by the tax office, for “making taxable income vanish into thin air” by arranging a £300m “internal loan” that was even condemned by the Conservative MP on the Public Accounts Committee.”
Labour are suffering the same coordinated attacks the Yes movement did last year, as business interests circle the wagons and protect their bagmen, Cameron and Osborne. It might do Labour some good though.
The roll-call of 100 may be comforting to those within the Tory bubble but to many living in austerity Britain they look more like a gang of thieves than Captains of Industry or ‘business chiefs’.
Corporate Britain runs on cheap labour, and wants to maintain a low-waged, zero hours economy. Seamus Milne has it right on the SNP surge (‘David Cameron’s corporate champions fear progressive Britain. But voters don’t’):
“Cameron has already tried to use that to stoke anti-Scottish feeling. And mutual hatred between Labour and the SNP in Scotland runs deep. But two key changes should make the prospect less alarming to voters who want to see a change of direction across Britain. The first is that the SNP has now positioned itself clearly to the left of Labour. Under Nicola Sturgeon, the party is campaigning to dump austerity and oppose the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons – and has signed up to a 50% top rate of tax, while dropping its support for a 3% cut in corporation tax. Labour activists complain that the SNP’s left credentials are “skin deep”, but led by recovering Blairite Jim Murphy that’s a tricky case to make. The second key change is the SNP’s commitment to vote against a Tory-led government in any circumstances. Until that pledge was made, a vote for the SNP could have potentially returned Cameron to Downing Street. Now, it could deny Miliband a majority or prevent Labour being the largest party. But SNP seats are committed to an anti-Conservative bloc.
No government has been formed by the party with the second largest number of seats since 1924. But the possibility of a Labour-led administration backed by the SNP is now being denounced by FTSE 100 corporate executives as an “unreconstructed 1970s socialist nightmare”.
That’s clearly a nonsense but as we limber up for the leaders debates tonight, this new geography will exert itself. Each leader will get a short opening statement lasting around a minute, then the chance to debate four topics. Expect at least four of the seven to focus on austerity and low pay and relentlessly attack the Tories.
Who has heard Leanne Wood speak? She’s likely to shine because she’s passionate and articulate and radical. Farage will be exposed and is vulnerable to attack from all sides after his comments about children playing in the streets and his defence of David Coburn. He looks far less comfortable without a pint in his hand and the shadow of Al Murray now looms over his every appearance. Sturgeon has all the cards, and is often better in a live setting than set-piece speeches. It’s there for Ed Miliband to win or lose but he has to have something to say. It will be interesting whether he tries to appease the attack from big business or tack left. Natalie Bennet has much to gain but can’t afford another media disaster. The Greens expect to take votes off Labour and the crumbling Liberal Democrats, so she’s likely to attack them as insufficiently radical on issues such as nationalising the railways. That’s not difficult given this sort of stuff.
Nick is milk toast. If last time the debates propelled him to stardom these will help him into the ejector seat.
The debate is unlikely to be dubbed the Magnificent Seven but it will at least for a moment represent a country no longer captured by the red and the blue. As well as the individual battles it will be interesting to see what the cumulative impact of Wood, Sturgeon and Bennet is. Will they have a co-ordinated game-plan?
This is new territory and it will be most uncomfortable for Cameron and Miliband. Who can best adapt to the new politics ripe with potential alliances and terminal pitfalls? While Labour’s old guard Brown bellows from the sidelines (or the shadows or Glenrothes) about “breaking the hearts of the poor”it will be dawning on Red Ed that he can’t throw away the SNP lifeline.