DOMINIC LAWSON: You can virtually hear big firms sucking up to Labour, but if they win it’ll be the sound of jobs gurgling down the plughole…

That sound you can hear, like water as it gurgles down the plughole, is of big business sucking up to Labour.

Most glutinously, at a £1,000-a-head event at the Oval cricket ground the other week (sold out in four hours) at which executives were given the opportunity to ‘mingle’ with the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor.

The Financial Times, in a report headlined ‘Keir Starmer and big business, a love story’, observed that once he and Rachel Reeves ‘had to visit companies at their offices. But as the election nears, with Labour well ahead in the polls, business is beating a path to the party’s door instead’.

And one present at this event observed: ‘It’s so funny seeing all these people who used to blow smoke up the a***s of the Tories sitting here.’

Sir Keir Starmer arriving at Labour's conference in Liverpool with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner in October 2023

Sir Keir Starmer arriving at Labour’s conference in Liverpool with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner in October 2023

The most comical of these chancers among the plutocracy is the hereditary chairman of Iceland Foods (his father founded the company) Richard Walker.

He has been busy acclaiming Starmer — and doing photo-ops with the Labour leader — ever since last October when he wrote an article for the Observer complaining that ‘as events have unfolded since the election of 2019 it has become increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Conservative Party has drifted badly out of touch with business’.

In fact, the problem for Mr Walker is that the Conservative Party wasn’t interested in promoting him, personally. Only four months earlier, he had written to Rishi Sunak: ‘It is my most fervent wish that I succeed in becoming an approved Conservative Party Candidate, and I have — over the past two years — given my all to earning that privilege . . . I have striven to ensure that anything I say in the public arena fully supports HM Government and Conservative Party Policy.’

That is, the policies which he now claims were ‘badly out of touch with business’. Sunak never replied to Walker’s begging letter, which might explain it.

I’m sure Starmer can see such people for the creeps they are but he can’t be blamed for making political capital over their conversion to his side.

The voice of big business, the CBI, has been for some time sidling up to Labour, too. Last week, its former chief, Paul Drechsler, said that the Conservatives are ‘not just losing the argument on business, Labour is winning it’.

Uber drivers went on strike on Valentine's Day as part of a day of national industrial action. Labour's strike-friendly policies will harm sustainable growth

Uber drivers went on strike on Valentine’s Day as part of a day of national industrial action. Labour’s strike-friendly policies will harm sustainable growth

And the CBI’s current chief executive, Rain Newton-Smith, a fortnight ago said that ‘large-scale tax cuts’ should be kept off the table as an election nears.

This is actually funny, as the organisation’s then vice-president, Lord [Karan] Bilimoria had acclaimed the disastrous Kwasi Kwarteng mini-budget — which offered much more in the way of unfunded tax cuts than anything likely from the current chancellor next month — as ‘transformational’.

Until now, business seems to have been either remarkably naïve about what Labour is actually planning or just deeply cynical, reckoning they should do all they can to ingratiate themselves with the likely next governing party.

Yet Starmer and Reeves have shown not an inch’s retreat from the commitment (most promoted by the party’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner) to repeal all legislation restricting trade union rights passed since the Conservatives came into office in 2010.

Other commitments in this spirit include enabling workers to sue for unfair dismissal from ‘day one’ of their employment (currently it’s necessary to have been in the job for two years), an end to so-called zero-hours contracts, and an extension of eligibility to ‘sick pay’ to all workers, including the self-employed.

These proposals may indeed prove popular at the ballot box. But they make a mockery of what Starmer says is his solution to all our problems — to ‘grow the economy’.

He has actually pledged that by the end of his first term in government ‘we will deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7’ (the group of major economies that happens to include the U.S.).

One thing even economists can agree on is that the key to sustainable growth is improving the productivity of the workforce. On what planet is that made more likely by making it easier for unions to take strike action, and more difficult for employers to hire and fire? As for encouraging sick pay, isn’t that already the bane of the British labour market?

Dominic Lawson fears that nobody at the top of the Labour Party has much feeling for entrepreneurial spirit

Dominic Lawson fears that nobody at the top of the Labour Party has much feeling for entrepreneurial spirit

Such ‘reforms’ could well bankrupt smaller businesses, since we have become an increasingly litigious culture. And while Starmer and Reeves are no doubt enjoying the attention of the big corporates, the most vibrant economies are those which foster new business creation and allow smaller firms the maximum freedom to take the risks they need.

This means being able to hire and fire, and, yes, use zero-hours contracts (which are actually popular with many men and women who want more flexible working). Better those jobs than no jobs.

But I fear there is no one at the top of the Labour Party who has much feeling for the entrepreneurial spirit. Their idea of business is of those with vast HR departments and corporate legal departments, closer in spirit to the public sector, where productivity growth has been abject.

If that is imposed on the private sector as a whole, the noise you will be hearing is of jobs going down the plughole.

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