Business welcomes hand of friendship

LOUISE JURY

There are still doubts, fears and not a little scepticism, but the business community yesterday broadly welcomed Labour's attempts to forge better links and understanding.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, begins his party's "Business Tour" with a breakfast for 600 in Birmingham tomorrow morning. Robin Cook, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, yesterday dubbed the wooing of business at a series of working breakfasts as the "bacon and egg offensive", a successor to the party's "prawn cocktail offensive" before the last general election.

"There is a view that Labour is a party with whom one could now have a dialogue whereas a few years ago that was not the case," a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said. They welcomed hearing Labour's views, but "there are some concerns. We would welcome clarification on what the Labour party is. But it would be churlish not to admit they have come a long way."

Sara Conway, of the Industry Forum set up 18 months ago to forge links between Labour and business, said there had been interest from companies in recent months. Members, who pay pounds 500 to join, include the Burton Group, Tesco, Nissan and Hambros bank, who gave pounds 105,000 to the Conservative party last year.

"It's just been crazy," she said. "There's a genuine desire on industry's part, not necessarily to support everything Labour says, but certainly to get to know them better. It's very positive."

Ruth Lea, head of the Institute of Directors' policy unit, agreed. The business community was more reassured than in the past although there were still doubts about exactly what Labour would do.

The party's espousal of low inflation and sustainable growth was welcome, but saying it would set an inflation target only when it were in office was not.

"There are no numbers. How specific are their policy commitments going to be before the next election?" Ms Lea said.

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