Cameron and Miliband should know that my gang vs your gang is not what elections should be about

Instead of sizing up to the Tories, Labour should have actually exposed the antics of some of their business supporters

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The Independent Online

So the Tories, through the kind offices of the Daily Telegraph, managed to drum up support from 103 business leaders, who were united in their support of a cut in corporation tax. So what?

More than a million people signed a letter demanding that Jeremy Clarkson should keep his job on Top Gear at the BBC. And among those – rather than a roll call of multi-millionaire businessmen and women – will have been everyone from second-hand car salesmen to members of the clergy, from window-cleaners to senior executives, of all genders, of all ethnic minorities, and across all demographics. In other words, a fairly accurate representation of the British electorate.

I fail to see why we should be so impressed by the Conservatives’ gang of 100, any more than we should take seriously the special pleading of a million or so Clarkson supporters. They are very different things, and I understand that. One is about a select group of eminent people holding court, and the other is the expression of a pressure group. But, in a sense, they are the same: an attempt to achieve critical mass with the purpose of influencing an outcome.

We know how successful the Clarkson petition was, and we will learn early next month whether this group of mega-earning Conservative supporters achieve their objective. The Labour Party’s response to the business leaders’ letter was lame and predictable. They released a missive of their own, signed by 100 people from all walks of life, but including a few obligatory high-profile personalities, saying that the rise of the zero-hours contract was a symbol of the failure of the Conservatives’ economic policies.

Sometimes, I despair of those in the front line of politics. Surely it’s possible to make any case, or rebut a claim, merely by the power of argument, by reason and articulation, rather than by riding in the slipstream of assorted chief executives, fashion designers, television personalities, football club chairmen, and former Blue Peter presenters. And what were the Labour people thinking of in formulating their response? Their answer to the letter in the Telegraph should not have been to produce a carbon copy (only with an inferior cast list) but to assemble a crack team of researchers and set them the task of investigating the tax affairs and business records of the plutocrats who were telling us all how to vote.


Actually, they needn’t have spent too much time digging. In the Daily Mail, they applauded the intervention of the business leaders, and said in an editorial that it was as if “all David Cameron’s Christmases had come at once”. But there, only four pages away from the news that “business chiefs hail Tories” was a rather unfortunate report about one of the signatories to the published letter, Tidjane Thiam.

Mr Thiam is soon to depart as chief executive of Prudential to take up the same role at Credit Suisse, but not before he has to face, according to the Mail, a storm of protest over the rewards that he and his fellow executives have been granted at the Pru. Mr Thiam enjoyed the benefits of an £11.8m package last year, which took the total he has earned in his five years running the Pru to £41m. At a time when the Pru has been criticised for its poor return on annuities, Mr Thiam might not be the man to whom voters should listen where the greater good is concerned. Perish the thought, but he may even be arguing for a cut in corporation tax out of self-interest.

This is the type of point the Labour Party should be making, using fact and invective as their weapons. But I assume the party’s officers are too busy rounding up a mob to do their fighting for them.