Labour’s preparations for the May general election suffered a double blow today as Ed Miliband came under fire from a top businessman and a prominent a party donor.
Douglas Alexander, who chairs Labour’s election strategy,today rejected Mr Miliband’s critics and called for party unity. Dismissing the sniping as “rubbish”, he echoed Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister in the sixties and seventies, repeating his message when he faced plots against him by Labour rivals.
Mr Alexander told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I can tell you what’s going on. We are going on and we are going on to victory.” He said everyone in the party should be working for a majority Labour government.
Stefano Pessina, head of the Boots chemists chain, said a Labour government would be a “catastrophe” for Britain if it acted on Mr Miliband’s anti-business rhetoric. He said Labour’s plans were “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won’t be helpful for them.”
Other business figures are expected to attack Labour in the run-up to the election. Several are alarmed by Mr Miliband’s interventionist measures such as a 20-month energy price freeze and his attacks on “predators” in industry. Labour won no endorsements from leading businessmen at the 2010 election and party officials fear the same fate this year. Privately, they admit that bosses do have some sway over the people they employ and affect the general political climate.
John Mills, who gave Labour £1.65m in 2013, joined criticism by Blairite former ministers, led by Alan Milburn, of Labour’s plan to reduce the amount of state-funded NHS care delivered by the private sector. He also took aim at Labour’s proposed mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.
Mr Mills, chairman of consumer goods firm JML, said: “I agree with [Alan] Milburn –if you look at the continental model, they have a much greater mix of public and private provision.” He added: “I am not convinced of the case for a tax on expensive properties. And it certainly should not be hypothecated [earmarked] for the NHS.”
Jason Cowley, editor of the left-wing New Statesman magazine, said Labour appears “to be willing itself to defeat.” Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: “The party knows it is losing an election that it should be winning, and doesn’t know what to do about it.” He said the mood of Labour MPs is “not so much one of despair, it is worse than that – resignation.”
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