No need to fear Labour, says CBI

The Confederation of British Industry let its non-political mantle slip in an unexpected direction yesterday when its president, Sir Colin Marshall, conceded that business had nothing to fear from a Labour government.

Despite its protestations of political neutrality, the employers' organisation has traditionally been viewed as a natural ally of the Conservative Party. So much so that at its last annual dinner in May Sir Colin warmly thanked the guest speaker, John Major, saying he hoped to be able to invite him back in the same capacity this year.

But yesterday Sir Colin said industry had no reason to fear Tony Blair, "so long as the policies adopted by the Labour Party are not at variance with what we believe are the best interests of the country from a business and industry standpoint".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he urged whoever wins the next election not to jeopardise the current economic climate. "We are looking at the longest sustained period of economic growth and stability this country has experienced in recent memory. We are the envy of the major countries in Europe," Sir Colin said, suggesting Labour would be ill-advised to deviate from present economic policies.

However, he did not let Labour off the hook altogether, restating industry's opposition to two of its main policy commitments - the introduction of the Social Chapter and a windfall tax on the privatised utilities.

"We will certainly take to task and raise issues with which we disagree," he said. "We are not in favour of joining the Social Chapter in Europe because of our concerns at reducing the competitiveness of this country and the additional bureaucracy it will bring about. We are not in favour of the imposition of windfall taxes because we find those discriminatory."

Sir Colin's views about the need for stability were re-inforced by the British Chambers of Commerce, which used its New Year message to urge that there be no sudden changes in economic policy.

Dr Ian Peters, the BCC's deputy director-general, added that whoever formed the next government had to take Europe and the prospect of a single currency seriously by participating in negotiations over economic and monetary union. Politicians should provide fewer soundbites and better- informed debate on one of the most significant decisions to face the country.

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