Beckett prepares to calm industry's fears

The new shadow trade minister believes she can allay worries about Labour's policies. She talked to Peter Rodgers

Margaret Beckett, the new shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, plans to campaign to allay the fears of industrialists that Labour's business-friendly new policies may not be delivered when the party is in power.

Speaking last night as her new job was confirmed, she said: "It is part of my role to seek to allay peoples' fears if we can, and to reassure them if we can, that we are all very mindful of the needs of wealth-creation and the vital importance of business and industry to our national well- being."

Mrs Beckett, who has had considerable experience of talking to business and the City as a member of the late John Smith's Treasury team before the last election, said she would do everything possible to "build up contacts and air and share concerns with industry". With Mr Smith, she was one of the principal members of the famous "prawn cocktail circuit" that tried to neutralise any opposition from the financial and business community to a Labour government.

On Wednesday, Sir Bryan Nicholson, president of the Confederation of British Industry, repeated his previous welcome of the big shift in Labour policy towards a more business-friendly outlook. The CBI also gave a welcome to Labour's macro-economic policy. But Sir Bryan said that there were still fears among industrialists that once in power a Labour government would not be able to deliver on its new policies.

Mrs Beckett called on industrialists to be open-minded this time round. She said: "Before the last general election a great many things we were saying were not at all dissimilar to what the CBI was saying, yet Sir John Banham (then director general of the CBI) went out of his way to slag off the Labour Party and was saying the CBI wouldn't have anything to do with it."

Mrs Beckett, who declined to comment on specific policies after only minutes in her new position, said: "I always thought it quite astonishing and very dismaying that government ministers would really tear into business representatives for their views and it was always swallowed."

She warned industrialists that it would get still worse under a renewed Tory mandate. "Were the Conservatives to be re-elected for a fifth term they really would believe that they could do anything they liked and wouldn't listen to anybody at all about anything - and that would include people in industry and commerce."

Mrs Beckett, who is moving from the health portfolio, said she had always found industrial policy fascinating. Her first job had been as an engineering apprentice at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park, Manchester - a company later taken over by AEI, which was, in turn, absorbed in the present GEC. She became a metallurgist.

Her first Labour Party staff job was at headquarters working on industrial policy. Ever since then she had taken an interest in industry. "I have always had a constituency (Derby South) with very strong manufacturing industry interests. I have always tried to create and preserve good relations between the party and industrialists."

She added jokingly: "Some of my best friends are industrialists, as they say", and said she had played a minor role in setting up the Labour Industry Forum, which has been working with business people to develop detailed policies for the party. But Mrs Beckett thought it impolitic to name the industrialists in the forum with whom she was friends.

Under her predecessor, Dr Jack Cunningham, the Labour industry team has worked at a wide range of policies on issues from competition policy to regulation and the utilities, but it has been overshadowed on the executive pay row by Gordon Brown, the Opposition Treasury spokesman.

Mr Brown has, at times, appeared to make all the running on the "fat cat" issue, sidelineing Dr Cunningham, though pay rises are mainly to do with corporate governance and other issues that belong to the trade side.

Mrs Beckett refused to be drawn into how she would share out these high- profile issues - which attract a lot of personal publicity - with Mr Brown, but dropped hints that she would become more involved.

She said that she and Mr Brown would work together on the issues.

"Gordon has very effectively used the issue of what is happening in the utilities to highlight the issue of fairness - and fairness is the key to our taxation policies."

Mrs Beckett added: "These things change and evolve." She looked forward to working with Mr Brown. "What we will do is to try to divide up the work and the exposure in ways that are most effective for the policies."

Mrs Beckett did not want to lay down any rules about who did what, and believed in working it out as it went along.

She believed she would be fighting a government that had to a considerable extent run out of ideas and steam, which explained why some of the newer developments in policy towards business were also ideas prominent in Labour thinking.

Observers believe that areas of partial overlap - and possible continuity between a Labour and Tory government - include policies for small business and proposals such as the Business Links network developed by Michael Heseltine, which Labour is more likely to develop and expand than cut back.

Asked whether she believed there were areas of possible continuity in policy towards business after a change of government, Mrs Beckett said: "One of the sad things about the policy debate today is that the attitude of the present government is so utterly infantile - it will never accept that there can be any common ground or common sense."

She was enthusiastic about taking charge of science and technology - a new part of the industry portfolio - and also declared her enthusiasm for consumer issues. "I think that has a great deal of importance that is often overlooked. We have a very good team in that area with a keen eye for what is in the interests of consumers. For a long time in the public and private sectors we haven't looked as fully at the interests of consumers as we should have done."

When she moved to the health portfolio, her predecessor left her 36 crates of material to digest. She will shortly meet Dr Cunningham for the trade and industry handover.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003