Yeo tries to woo disillusioned business back into Tory camp

Michael Harrison
Monday 25 November 2002 01:00

The Conservatives are attempting to take advantage of business disillusionment with the Government by wooing firms back into the Tory fold.

Tim Yeo, the shadow trade and industry spokesman, will be in Manchester today at the start of the CBI conference as the Tory campaign to portray itself as the natural party of business gathers pace.

He will take part in a question and answer session at the CBI conference alongside Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrats' trade and industry spokesman.

Last week, Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI, again hit out at Government tax increases and red tape, warning Tony Blair that many British businesses were now in a "perilous state" because of the additional burdens placed on them.

"There is common ground between the CBI and the Conservative Party on quite a large number of issues," Mr Yeo said. "After five-and-a-half years of a Labour Government there is a rather more hard-headed judgement being made and I am pleased the CBI is speaking with authority."

Mr Yeo said the Conservative appeal to business would be built around an agenda of deregulation and turning the Department of Trade and Industry into a champion of enterprise. "It should almost become a single-issue pressure group within Whitehall acting as a spokesman for business and questioning what the impact of policy made in other departments will be on business otherwise the interests of industry will get ignored."

Mr Yeo admitted that the one crucial area where big business and the Conservatives had divergent views was the euro. A Conservative government would keep Britain out of the single currency for the lifetime of the next parliament.

However, Mr Yeo, said he personally was "agnostic" on the subject of the euro. "I am perfectly comfortable with staying out of the euro at this stage because I don't see that membership would be beneficial. But I am not someone who says 'never' unlike some of my colleagues."

Labour dismissed Mr Yeo's initiative. An adviser to Ms Hewitt said that none of the business people that it spoke to took the Conservatives seriously.

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