Lord Myners: The Labour party is uncomfortable with business

You Live and You Learn: Paul Myners, City grandee, Labour peer and former M&S chairman on getting his first break, why Labour needs to be closer to business, and where M&S is going wrong.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I've always been something of an outsider - a jack of all trades, master of none. I have worked in everything, from electricity generating to mobile telecoms, teaching, real estate, banking and newspapers. The Rothschilds gave me my break in the City, making me head of their Hong Kong business aged 28.

I've got this rather liberal social conscience that came from my mother. She was a hairdresser and a very significant influence, who encouraged me to pursue education. My father wanted me to stay in Cornwall and work in the docks.

That conscience is why I never feel comfortable with people who are only interested in making money. I've done things like chair the Low Pay Commission. I often take business people round prisons to show how awful they are. You're more likely to leave prison with an addiction than to arrive with one.

Politicians are close to bankers, but not to ordinary business owners. With a few exceptions, the Labour party is uncomfortable with business people. There are some like Chuka Umunna who are at ease with business people, and who I think has got tremendous potential. Others, like Ed Balls, are not.

My relationship with Philip Green is good - at least, he doesn't swear at me any more than he does at other people. I'm sure Philip was annoyed he didn't get his hands on M&S, but I had to ensure that shareholders had a choice and there was no other bidder.

I think Bolland is doing a lot of sensible things, but the ladies' wear offering lacks conviction. The stores are too crowded and sightlines are obstructed. Good retail is like theatre - it's about creating an attractive environment. But M&S has competitive advantages in that it's got high footfall and is a trusted brand.

I don't think we should tax companies at all. Tax the owners and shareholders instead. It's impossible to successfully tax global companies because they will always find ways to outwit the tax authorities. Taxes should come from the consequences of business rather than the act of business.

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