Abigail Townsend: What now for a City that wanted to bury Brown?

Business blames him for everything but our potential PM is in credit
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Not yet. Not until Tony and Cherie are driving along behind the removal men will I be convinced that the Prime Minister has made way for a new Labour leader, no matter what he promised last week.

But Mr Blair's announcement that he would be stepping down within 12 months (way to go on the specifics, Tony) will at least have got many in the City mulling over what's already been and what happens next.

Business has a strange relationship with New Labour. Along with the rest of Britain, and after a period of concentrated wooing, it merrily broke with blue traditions in 1997 to usher in Messrs Blair and Brown. But the honeymoon came to a swift end.

The complaints are many and varied: pensions, red tape (despite manifesto pledges to cut it), the party's oscillating relationship with unions, the minimum wage, windfall taxes - the list goes on. And it was the Chancellor who shouldered the blame.

Some of these complaints are spot-on. Take pensions. A crisis has been taking shape right under the Government's nose, yet all it seems to have done is hold public reviews and then fail to adopt most of the recommendations. Nor has it insisted that public servants should face the same pension cuts and longer working lives as the rest of us.

On other complaints, however, I'm less convinced. Take red tape. Yes there's a lot, and small firms certainly have a tough time of it, but can anyone point to a time when bureaucracy and business were strangers? Also, much of the increased regulation has been led by the EU and the US - particularly the rush of the American authorities to clean up Wall Street's act after a series of embarrassing corporate scandals.

And as for the minimum wage, well if you were paying your staff less than that, shame on you - and I don't care how big or small your firm is.

But the really interesting point is that we all focus on the negatives with Gordon Brown, rather than any positives. Business does not like him, yet the UK has enjoyed a solid 10 years. The Bank of England is independent, the boom-and-bust days are no more and the country grew as the rest of the world stagnated.

If Mr Brown enters No 10, he will no doubt ensure his successor as Chancellor shares his economic mindset. And then, I hope, he will get on with his new job of running the country.

And maybe that is what really worries business. Mr Brown's whiff of Old Labour has never gone away, and no companies want that. They have enjoyed freedom and stability under Mr Blair's New Labour, and have largely been nurtured and cosseted. Worker-friendly policies, for instance, have been enforced gently and carefully.

Business is never going to be entirely happy, and Mr Brown the Chancellor was responsible for changes that many did not like. But Mr Brown the Prime Minister? That takes it to a different level altogether - one from which Britain's directors may not not enjoy the view.

Sportingbet's wild punt

You're a director of an online betting business. You have US operations - operations that the American authorities deem illegal. Only recently they arrested one of your peers, the minute he set foot on US soil, resulting in him losing his job and parts of his business being shut down. So would you, bearing all that in mind, head for the States, just as Sportingbet's chairman did?

That Peter Dicks was arrested at JFK airport, as part of an investigation into internet gambling, can have come as no surprise to anyone - let alone the man himself. What will happen next to Mr Dicks and Sportingbet is not so clear, but the markets have punished his rash move and gaming shares have tumbled.

Whatever persuaded Mr Dicks to go to the States, let's hope that decision was worth it - for him, his company, his investors and the entire sector.