Hanson attacks Labour Party

Lord Hanson, one of the elder statesmen of British industry, yesterday used his shareholders' annual meeting to launch a broadside at the Labour Party and its aspirations to power. Lord Hanson, 73, defending Hanson PLC's continuing patronage of the Conservative Party - it donated £100,000 to the Tories in 1994 - told shareholders: "For all its posturing as the friend of business Labour is still committed to the European socialist manifesto." This policy, he said, struck at "the very heart of UK manufacturing industry."

His comments triggered an immediate confrontation with Labour, with the shadow secretary for trade and industry, Dr Jack Cunningham, branding the multi-millionaire as "blinkered, ill-informed and hopelessly politically biased."

Lord Hanson, who is chairman of the company and paid £1.3m a year, cited "the excesses of Labour councils" as evidence that Tony Blair's reconstructed Labour was unsuited to rule.

The Yorkshire-born peer, whose sprawling empire straddles the Atlantic and embraces everything from coal mining and cigarettes to brick manufacture, told shareholders at the annual meeting in London: "Remember what happened to inflation and the pound in your pocket the last time we had a Labour government."

Last year Lord Hanson's group also gave £15,000 to the Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative right-wing thinktank.

The Tories believed in backing business enterprise, he said, adding that policies brought in by Margaret Thatcher's government had been a dynamic influence on the success of his company.

He said: "The way forward is to encourage the party that believes in the creation of national wealth, not spending it."

He told shareholders that the contribution to the Conservative Party had to be seen in the context of a company making profits of £1.3bn last year. The annual report also revealed that in the past two years Hanson has made worldwide charitable donations of £6.5m.

A Hanson spokesman said the company had supported the Tory party for at least 10 years, with annual contributions ranging from £50,000 to £100,000.

The influential industrialist's comments yesterday come against the backcloth of moves by Labour to convince Britain's industry leaders that it poses no threat to entrepreneurial dynamism.

Dr Cunningham said that while Lord Hanson may have personally benefited from Conservative industrial policies, he could not pretend that this was true for British industry as a whole.