UK: EDITORIAL - TONY BLAIR AND THE BUSINESSMAN. - The change of direction which Tony Blair has brought about in Labour's industrial policy is truly amazing. Compare his interview with Management Today (Blair's Bid for Business, p40) with Labour's 1983 ma

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The change of direction which Tony Blair has brought about in Labour's industrial policy is truly amazing. Compare his interview with Management Today (Blair's Bid for Business, p40) with Labour's 1983 manifesto - renowned as the longest suicide note in history - and the distinctions between Labour and Conservative appear insignificant. This shift prompts two questions: is Labour's new policy designed simply to secure election victory, and - if not - can Blair carry his own party with him?

The answer to the first question must be an unequivocal No. Fears that the policy is a Trojan horse which, once installed within the citadel of government, will release the stormtroopers of socialism are hardly realistic. Although not everyone will be persuaded by his vision of a Labour Government working shoulder to shoulder with industry, Blair's belief in the need to make UK business fully competitive is beyond question.

So, if elected, will he be able to exercise his mandate? The flurry of criticism from within his own ranks during the summer served to revive the impression that Blair and his closest supporters may be taking Labour into areas where the rest of the party will not follow. This is to underestimate the strength of his present position. The momentum that has been built up will make it extremely difficult for those within the party who hold divergent ideologies to alter its direction should it be called upon to form a government.

None of this substantiates Blair's claim that Labour is the better party to represent industry. Fewer than 10% of those who took part in the Management Today/MORI Captains of Industry survey (p46) would either vote Labour or plump for Blair as prime minister. Blair's argument for signing up for the Social Chapter may be the best one - that if we are to remain part of Europe we must have a full seat at all the policy-making tables - but it is not clear at what point his perception of social justice obtrudes on his pro-industry stance. There is no comfort to be derived from his enthusiasm for a national minimum wage. It is over such matters as these, plus the thorny question of income tax, that Labour is apt to give out the wrong signals.

And signals could have all the substance of major stumbling blocks for a Labour Government. With capital moving so freely across the world, any political leader seeking to improve the lot of his country's citizens must constantly think about those policies which will encourage investment, and those which will have the reverse effect. Companies seeking to enhance their performance choose to invest, and to generate jobs, in regions where conditions are most favourable to business. Politicians who hobble companies by intrusive legislation have only themselves to blame when investment dies. If Blair can resist the temptation to intervene in the running of industry, and concentrate on helping it to compete effectively with the rest of the world, British business will have little to fear from Labour.

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