Today’s news brings fresh evidence of Labour’s deteriorating relationship with business: almost a quarter of a group of prominent business figures who endorsed Blair in 2005 have moved to distance themselves from the party.
Writing in the Independent, Andrew Grice argues that this anti-business perception is damaging Ed Miliband.
But if that’s true then his party seems remarkably unconcerned about it. Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, used an interview in this morning’s Times (£) to pick fights with several more well-known brands including Amazon and Starbucks.
Securing business support and economic credibility was one of New Labour’s preoccupations, which perhaps explains today’s reports of an abortive attempt, led by Lord Mandelson, to install Alan Johnson as leader a few months ago.
The contrast with the attitude of Miliband’s Labour could not be more striking. Yet as other commentators have remarked before, Labour’s current standoff with the business community is one of Miliband’s own making.
It is the product of the strategic decisions he has been making throughout his leadership.
The foundation myth of the Labour leader’s initial appeal to his party was that they could win from the left, by simply adding Liberal Democrat defectors to their 2010 share and letting seat boundaries do the rest.
Like any suggestion that victory without compromise is possible, it has proved immensely appealing to the rank and file. Yet the rise of UKIP and the Greens has thrown this strategy off course.
Whilst UKIP hurt the Tories they also attract working class, socially conservative and nationalist voters in what have long been Labour strongholds. Meanwhile Natalie Bennett offers disaffected young voters an undiluted dose of anti-austerity fantasy.
Therefore in order to salvage his putative electoral coalition, Miliband has been forced to chase off after those elements which are abandoning it. Such a course has carried him a long way from the centre and the sort of business support that his predecessors so assiduously cultivated.
Yet for all that he might make business leaders and right-wing commentators squawk, Labour might yet make it over the line. The fragmented state of British politics makes it possible for either of the main parties, but especially Labour, to claw its way into government without winning over many of the other’s supporters.
It might involve a ‘Frankenstein coalition’ with the SNP and other sundry nationalists, but again the fact that his opponents disapprove of his methods isn’t going to make any material difference when Miliband is waving to the press with his back to Number 10.
Rather, it will be after he has stepped through that door that the gaping hole in his strategy will swallow him whole. For there is a downside to willfully misleading an electorate to the extent that current Labour strategy demands: you do not prepare them for the realities of office.
Francois Hollande’s increasingly miserable presidency provides an object lesson in the result of a collision between an over-promising left-wing politician and the realities of office. Miliband has refused to learn it.
Yet the facts of political life have not changed. The next government is going to be up to its neck in the ongoing process of balancing the books, and that means that the first Balls budget is going to contain a fresh round of departmental spending cuts.
Obviously Labour are inclined to do more with tax rises, but you can only squeeze so much from ‘the rich’ and any meaningful tax rises for ordinary Britons would be, in Sir Humphrey’s terms, ‘courageous’.
Indeed if growth stalls even the anti-business posturing might get thrown out in a desperate scramble for economic good news.
When this happens, Labour’s electoral coalition could disintegrate very quickly, lured away by the minor parties who warned all along that Labour were Tory sell-outs who aren’t to be trusted.
Labour could reach 2020 facing an abyss, having destroyed their credibility with centrist voters in pursuit of a left-wing electorate they couldn’t satisfy.
Unless those minor parties are propping Miliband up, of course, in which case long before 2020 it would be his actual coalition that fell to pieces.