The Strange Business of a Reoccuring Letter

10 Apr 2015

Any country needs a functioning and healthy economy for its people to prosper and thrive. In the modern world, businesses play a crucial part in helping to create that thriving economy as they create jobs and opportunities, and can bring wealth and investment to an area. A business though, by its very nature, will seek to ensure its own survival. It is not a vehicle for the public good; any social benefits that arise from its actions are a happy fall-out from its profit driven motives. When a Government then, decides to introduce a policy that could be disastrous for a business in the short-term, possibly costing jobs, profit or perhaps even leading to the businesses shutting down, the business will then of course oppose any such policy – as, of course, it is entitled to do.


However, this same policy might have enormous benefits for the whole economy, and more importantly- the people- in the long run (raising the minimum wage being just one of the many sensible and vital economic policies that would fit these criteria). Politicians cannot and must not pander to the interests of a self-serving elite when deciding on economic policy, they have to consider the economy as a whole and what’s best for people, not just for businesses. So when 103 people involved in business get together and say that they’re not particularly fond of a political party’s economic policy, it’s not really much of a story.


In General Elections in the UK there are several things we have come to expect: ridiculously contrived and strange graphics presented by an enthusiastic reporter clogging up our news channels, ‘innocent’ politicians bearing the brunt of Jeremy Paxman’s relentless anger, people who clearly don’t belong in a factory/school/warehouse environment rambling around and severely disrupting someone’s working day and now, we can add to the list, the expressed opinion of the nation’s concerned and conscientious business leaders, as to just whom we, the apparently ignorant and naïve public, should be voting for. Now I don’t know about you, but I for one will be able to go to the voting booth a lot more informed now that I’ve had the political thoughts of Iceland founder, Malcom Walker; the same man who innovatively relabelled the wine they were selling at his store ‘Good Red’, ‘Good Rosé’ and ‘Good White’, just so that shoppers weren’t too overwhelmed with information.


The last three general elections have now received unwelcome interventions from leading business figures via the rather quaint use of a letter to one the nation’s prominent newspapers. In 2001, the bosses of seven FTSE 100 companies wrote to The Times, stating that businesses should support New Labour in the election as they, ‘‘had done so much to promote stable economic growth and a renewed spirit of enterprise in the British people," Labour received a similar backing in the build-up to the 2005 general election, this time in a letter to the Financial Times signed by 63 prominent business figures. With Labour ahead in the polls in both instances and their Conservative opposition on the run and in disarray, the impact of these letters can be said to be negligible at best. Any business figure that would have come out and openly backed William Hague or Michael Howard, would have been immediately removed from their position and put in a room without any scissors or sharp corners. Come the much closer 2010 election though and this time the tables had turned.


The expected yet uninvited letter returned, this time the mysterious group of business leaders had come together and decided that the stars were aligned in the favour of Cameron’s Conservatives. 23 of Britain’s most senior business figures felt that, in particular, Labour’s plans to increase National Insurance contributions for both staff and employers would threaten thousands of jobs. This time the letter had more of an impact on the election, feeding into the wider narrative that Labour had lost its handle on the economy and that, despite the lack of Governmental experience of both Cameron and Osborne, that they would be a safer pair of hands for a fragile economy.


Now, those beloved business leaders are back, and after having consulted with one another back at Justice Hall (any DC comic fans out there? No?) they’ve come to tell us that if elected, Labour would “threaten jobs and deter investment” across the country. This was disclosed in a letter sent to The Telegraph this Thursday and signed by a total of 103 renowned business figures. Among the signatories were former Dragons Den star Duncan Bannatyne; the chairman of Dixons, Carphone and Talk Talk plc. and former Labour backer, Sir Charles Dunstone; another former Labour backer the hotelier Surinder Arora; and so on and so forth. BlackRock, the US fund manager, were even good enough to explain the outcome of a potential Labour victory in the election to us, outlining how a minority Labour government reliant on the SNP would lead to a ‘‘constitutional crisis’’ for the country. They went on to explain that Britain under Labour would face the dangers of mounting debts and rising interest rates.


These letters, from these noble-intentioned and dedicated public servants, have become an unsavoury blight on our already much blighted political landscape; in a short space of time they have become a sad tradition and, as with many of the traditions in this country, no one’s really sure why it started, who it benefits or why we allow it.


The letter published last Thursday added nothing to the debate and quickly fell into the existing narratives being fed by both parties, leaving no one any the wiser for having read it. The fact that over 20 Tory donors think the government’s economic policy is the wiser option is hardly newsworthy and presenting their opinion, through the use of a mass-signed letter, as the unbiased concern of some economic gurus is simply disingenuous. Even the inclusion, among the signatories, of several former New Labour supporters is hardly ground-breaking- it should come as a surprise to any Telegraph reader that Labour has lost some of its former supporters in the business community since Miliband took the leadership. These letters give their signatories an unearned public platform to express their inherently self-serving opinions, it allows them to express their opinions as fact, despite their lack of accountability or authority.


So from here on in, I’m going to make a suggestion: unless a publication is willing to publish mass-signed letters from people from other professions, and indeed from any and all walks of life, regarding the perceived prudence of a political party’s policy, then these business figures should express their opinions the same as the rest of us, individually, with friends and family and on shamefully under-read excellent political news sites.

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