LABOUR HAS fought back against claims the party is ‘bad for business’ after coming under attack from the boss of a high street pharmacy giant.
Boots CEO Stefano Pessina caused a stir when he warned that Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plans were “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won’t be helpful for them”.
“If they acted as they speak, it would be a catastrophe,” he said.
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna retaliated by taking a personal swipe over the tax affairs of the Monaco-based multi-billionaire, who oversaw the £46m merger of Alliance Boots with American firm Walgreens and is now the group’s acting chief executive.
“It is important that the voice of business is heard during this general election campaign, not least on Europe,” he said.
“But the British people and British businesses will draw their own conclusions when those who don’t live here, don’t pay tax in this country and lead firms that reportedly avoid making a fair contribution in what they pay, purport to know what is in Britain’s best interests.”
Election strategist Douglas Alexander dismissed the attacks as “rubbish”, but the party faced further embarrassment when its biggest donor John Mills renewed his concerns about the party’s plans for a mansion tax.
With less than 100 days until May’s general election, comments from both men are likely to fuel the Conservative party’s criticism of their opponents’ economic credibility.
It is the second time in one week the party has been forced to defend its spending plans.
Earlier this week former Health Secretary Alan Milburn said Labour’s focus on extra funding for the NHS without plans to deliver the reforms that the services needed could prove to be a “fatal mistake”.
Jason Cowley, editor of the left-leaning New Statesman, yesterday described the mood of Labour MPs as “not so much one of despair, it’s worse than that – resignation”.
But Lucy Powell, the vice chairwoman of Labour’s election campaign, insisted her colleagues were “feeling pretty confident” and rounded on critics within the party.
And Tom Watson, Labour’s former general election co-ordinator, leapt to its defence over Mr Milburn, insisting Labour had learned lessons over NHS funding.
He said: “There is no room for sentiment and nostalgia if you want to make a future in politics and unfortunately for them they are part of the past and we’ve now got Andy Burnham leading on the health service.
“He’s going to map out our future direction and I very much hope they can swing in around him and give him their support.”
Mr Alexander has also refused to rule out a coalition with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament, insisting he was “not going to play that game”.
Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond cast doubt on the idea, however, saying a formal coalition would be “unlikely”.
He said: “Instead of another bout of austerity from Labour or Conservative the cancellation of the renewal of the Trident missile system and diverting that funding, £30bn over the next ten years, into health and education and something useful and productive and I think that will have a lot of support in England as well as in Scotland.”
Mr Salmond, who is standing in the general election, claimed Mr Miliband was “even more unpopular than David Cameron” in Scotland.