U.K. Labour Seeks to Reset Relations with Business After Corbyn
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Labour Party wants to reboot its relationship with business after five years of relentless attacks under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Anneliese Dodds said in an interview that many companies want a “reset” and that she herself is working to “revitalize” the party’s outreach effort to business.
“It’s really important to have an open relationship, a transparent one where we understand where each other is coming from,” said Dodds, who became the party’s finance spokesman when Keir Starmer was elected leader in April.
Her comments suggest a change in tack from a party that fell to its biggest defeat since the 1930s in December’s election after running on a manifesto that included nationalizing the railways, postal service as well as energy and water firms.
That platform provoked the Confederation of British Industry, the country’s biggest business lobby, to lament Labour’s “volley of attacks” and criticize it for failing to recognize the value of business.
Dodds said Labour wants to strike a “new social contract” with firms, seeking their commitment to decent employment conditions and greening the economy.
She declined to say which policies the party intends to abandon, citing Labour’s policy making process, which involves the wider membership. But she hinted at change, saying “the context we’re in now is radically different from where we were even in December.”
Starmer has declared the party to be “under new management” -- but Labour still trails in the polls. A YouGov survey earlier this month found 40% of voters said the ruling Conservatives were better at managing the economy, with 22% preferring Labour. That 18-point gap is little-changed from 19 points last July, when Corbyn was at the helm.
“It is something that we need to change,” Dodds said. “The fact that previously the Labour Party generally has polled lower on that issue doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to overturn it: we absolutely should.”
Dodds’s job is made tougher by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s popularity: YouGov found voters favor him over his Labour counterpart by a margin of 38 points. He has been helped by his unprecedented spending on financial support for businesses and consumers during the pandemic.
As Sunak starts to scale back that aid -- his furlough program will begin to wind down on Aug. 1 -- Dodds said she is concerned by the blanket approach taken by the Conservatives.
She called on Sunak to be flexible and offer support to the hardest-hit industries and areas forced back into local lockdowns. She also warned that a surge in unemployment will squash any chance the U.K. has of growing its way out of what may be the worst recession in three centuries.
“What we’re saying is not that we can necessarily preserve in aspic, different industries, forever,” she said. But “preserving that capacity is necessary and keeping people out of that pool of the unemployed in the U.K. is very, very important.”
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