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Tony Blair and Chuka Umunna: Labour doesn't appeal enough to businesses

5 min read

11 May 2015

Former prime minister Tony Blair and current shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna have recently spoken about the need for Labour to readdress its approach towards UK businesses.

In a piece for The Observer, the former prime minister reflected on the recent general election result – where Labour’s 232 seats marked a big disappointment for the party, as the Conservatives won a majority with 331 seats. He suggested that Labour hadn’t provided explicit enough reassurance that it could be “for ambition and aspiration as well as compassion and care”.

“We have to appeal to those running businesses as well as those working in them,” Blair outlined. While Ed Miliband recently denied Labour’s overspending before the financial crash, Blair said that there should be “a measured defence of our economic record when in government, which correctly describes the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 but also acknowledges where we could have done better”. 

Meanwhile, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, an early favourite to take on Miliband’s mantle as the next Labour leader, also penned his thoughts on where Labour went astray in May’s general election. Umunna didn’t pull any punches and admitted the defeat was “devastating” for his part, as Labour’s worst election performance for almost three decades. 

A significant oversight was not paying enough attention to “aspirational, middle-class” voters, he said. “We talked about the bottom and top of society, about the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts, about mansions and non-doms. But we had too little to say to the majority of people in the middle,” Umunna added in his piece in The Observer

Another main focus of Umunna’s, was that Labour needs to do a great deal more in convincing businesses that it’s a party which wants to see them prosper too. “We allowed the impression that we were not the side of those who are doing well,” Umunna said. “We talked too little about those creating wealth and doing the right thing.”

He had previously spoken to Real Business about Labour’s aim to “champion all businesses, not just small businesses”, since the relationship between large and small businesses is “symbiotic”. Umunna added: “The clue is in the name – we’re the Labour party, and they’re the ones who create the jobs that we want to see – good, secure, better-paid jobs”.

Read more on the general election 2015:

His article in The Observer had a similar tone, as he stressed that Labour could not be “pro good jobs without being pro the businesses that create them”. While Umunna felt that the party’s prospective policies were pro-business, he conceded that, “the rhetoric often suggested otherwise”. 

“Sometimes, we made it sound like we saw taxing people as good in itself, rather than a means to an end,” he summarised. 

Their comments come as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) released new research exploring what SME business owners expect from the government, following the election. 

Some 2,327 firms were surveyed, and a third indicated a preference for sustained economic recovery to be the Conservatives’ focus. Other important issues raised included lowering the cost of doing business, as well as ensuring growth across the UK – not just London and the south east. 

Over half of respondents said they were confident in the government delivering for small businesses. Mike Cherry, FSB’s national policy chairman, said: “Today’s research sends a very clear message on what small business want from the new government – a supportive, light touch tax and regulatory environment in which to grow their business, creating prosperity and jobs.” 

As the Labour leadership battle heats up, and the party decides which direction it will be headed in next, both Blair and Umunna’s recent comments suggest the party should pay more attention to the centre ground. 

Elsewhere, David Cameron is finalising his cabinet positions – with Sajid Javid moving from culture secretary to take up his new post as business secretary. Iain Duncan Smith remains as work and pension secretary, while Amber Rudd becomes energy minister.

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