Labour’s Rachel Reeves drops flagship business announcement after Hunt intervenes

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt personally told the firms not to get involved with advisory council

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Friday 06 October 2023 15:38 BST
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Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has dropped an announcement on a new business council from her Labour conference speech after an intervention by Jeremy Hunt and senior Tories.

The Labour frontbencher was planning to use her Monday speech at the party conference in Liverpool to reveal a new advisory body involving some of the UK’s biggest companies.

But the chancellor and other senior Tories are thought to have contacted the firms involved to advise them against the move because it would be too political.

Aviva, Lloyds, Fidelity, Phoenix and Blackstone were expected to make up the advisory council, according to The Times, citing a draft release by Sir Keir Starmer’s party.

The Independent understands Mr Hunt spoke to one of the companies personally in a bid to get them to pull out, while other senior Tory figures contacted others.

Labour is still planning to push on with its plan to create the advisory council, but it is not clear if the firms will join this far out from a general election.

“We didn’t want it to look like we were supporting Labour,” a source at one company told The Times. “We wanted this to be non-partisan.”

A Labour source said officials were still in discussions with top businesses about “joining a new council in an independent advisory capacity”. They said it was another sign the party was “working in partnership with business”.

They added: “The decision was taken not to announce at conference following discussions with the businesses involved, but it’s happening and we are looking forward to it.”

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have been out to ‘woo’ business bosses
Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have been out to ‘woo’ business bosses (PA)

Ms Reeves had made a big push to win support from big business, as she and Keir Starmer continue to “woo” leaders from the City and the corporate sector.

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth said on BBC’s Question Time that Iceland boss Richard Walker would be welcomed “with open arms” to Labour and he said he would no longer be giving to the Tories.

John Caudwell, the Phones4U founder, said he will not back Mr Sunak after the “madness” of his U-turn on net zero pledges – and said he was thinking of giving to Labour instead.

Mohamed Amersi, who has donated £750,000 to the Tories, told The Independent earlier this month that he would give money to Labour politicians.

And Sir Rocco Forte – who gave £100,000 to the Tories to help fund the last general election – accused the party of reaping what it had sowed, claiming that the government’s “incompetence” had driven donors away.

Gareth Quarry, a former Conservative donor who defected to Labour, previously told The Independent that “dozens” of leading business figures – including Tory backers – had approached him asking how they could help to put Sir Keir Starmer in No 10.

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