Sunday, 12 April 2015

The politics of business leaders support

When the Telegraph ran a Tory-supporting letter from a group of business people this caused an interesting split amongst Labour supporters. Some saw the letter as very damaging and further evidence that the party had lost much of the credibility built up in the Blair era, others said it wouldn't make any difference or may even backfire for the Tories for looking too matey with corporates. The second stage of this argument saw some of the former group argue that the fact that some on the Left saw the letter as potentially damaging for the Tories was a sign of how anti-business many Labour supporters have become.

I'll nail my colours to the mast here. I'm not too bothered by Labour being criticised by corporate leaders. I think they still only get one vote each, that they can see the world with a very skewed perspective, and I don't believe any political party can satisfy all interests. Therefore if Labour is genuinely going to stand up for "hard-working alarm clock British families who play by the rules" they are likely to annoy some business leaders over some issues. I wouldn't actively encourage hostility towards business, but I wouldn't see opposition from business leaders as that significant. And for what it's worth I think some on the Right of Labour have a tendency to mythologise the extent of genuine business support for New Labour (as opposed to transient tactical support for the obviously dominant political power) and its value.

But what about the question of how Labour and Conservative stances towards business play out with the punters? Well, there is some useful polling out from YouGov here (page 9). On the face of it, the news isn't great for Labour. 33% think Ed Miliband is too hostile to Labour, compared to 29% saying he gets the balance about right. Of that 33%, 11% say much too hostile, and 22% say a little too hostile.

As you might expect, Labour and Conservative supporters have sharply different views here - 67% of Tories think Ed is too hostile, compared to 10% of Labour voters and 32% of Lib Dems. Of those 27% of Tories think Ed is much too hostile to business compared to 1% of Labour supporters (you know who you are!), and 4% of Lib Dems. Interestingly 40% of UKIP supporters also say too hostile, with 17% saying much too hostile, while 20% say he is too close to business. This no doubt reflects that party's strange mix of right-wing ex-Tories and hard-up white working class voters who might previously have voted Labour.

However, the Conservative polling to my eyes looks much worse. 50% say David Cameron is too close to business, and of those 29% say much too close. Even 24% of Conservative voters think that Cameron is too close to business. 75% of Labour supporters say he is too close, compared to 60% of Lib Dems and 55% of UKIP supporters, with the percentages saying much too close at 57%, 24% and 33% respectively. Again this points up the fact that many UKIP voters are deeply sceptical about the Tories motives.

Where does all that leave us? If, big if, we take the polling at face value I would argue that business-oriented interventions like the letter in general tend to reinforce existing perceptions of the Labour and the Tories. However, the damage is a bit worse for making Cameron look too close to corporates than making Ed look too hostile. In addition, a large proportion of Lib Dem and UKIP voters who also think the Cameron is much too close to business, significantly more than think Ed is too hostile. That may matter when these people are considering voting tactically.

In short, invoking the extent of business leader support might be your classic 'double-edged sword' -one which may hurt the Tories more than their opponent when they wield it.  

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