Bill Carmichael: Labour loses as business puts boot in

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I AM not sure who is running Labour’s election strategy, but after the extraordinary events of this week I am beginning to think it must be a crack undercover team from Conservative Central Office charged with sabotaging Ed Miliband’s chances of victory.

How else can you explain the utterly astonishing decision by Labour to declare all-out war on the evil empire that is Boots the Chemist?

The reason for this meltdown was some critical remarks made by the boss of Boots, Stefano Pessina, who said a Labour government would be a “catastrophe”, although he later said his comments had been taken out of context.

Instead of taking the hit and moving the debate onto to more productive ground for Labour, the party’s strategists decided this was a “defining issue” and they launched a full frontal assault on Boots. There followed a barrage of personal insults and playground abuse directed at Mr Pessina from the likes of Miliband and his Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna.

Are there people in Labour who seriously think that making an enemy of one of the most respected names in the high street is a good idea and will persuade people to vote for them?

Apparently so.

Predictably this plan blew up in Labour’s faces. Disgusted by the attacks on Mr Pessina, a legion of business leaders stepped forward to defend him and point out his criticism of Labour was justified – including Poundland founder Steve Smith, Yo! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe, Stuart Rose, the former boss of Marks & Spencer, Brent Hoberman, joint founder of Lastminute.com and Luke Johnson, the former boss of Pizza Express.

The crowning glory of this unmitigated fiasco was an admittedly hilarious appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight by Shadow Chancellor and MP for Morley and Outwood Ed Balls.

When asked to name a single business figure who supported Labour, Balls turned a worrying shade of puce and his eyes looked as if they were going to pop out of his head.

Eventually, he stammered that someone called “Bill” was on Labour’s side, although he was such an important figure that Balls couldn’t remember his second name.

Later, when the hoots of derision and laughter had died down, it turned out he was referring to Bill Thomas whose main claim to fame appears to be that he served on the board of the disgraced Co-Op Bank.

So there you have it. On the one side, lining up with the Conservatives, we have a veritable who’s who of British business, featuring some of the most successful companies in the land responsible for creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. On the other side, lining up with Labour, we have the solitary figure of Bill Somebody who served on the board when the once respected Co-Op was driven off a cliff.

Labour’s business-friendly credentials have been shattered and the Conservatives are laughing fit to bust.

The opinion polls have the two parties pretty much neck and neck, but if Labour keeps hitting the self-destruct button like this, the result in May won’t even be close.

Mired in fudge

Imagine the worst does happen – and we have Prime Minister Ed Miliband who has come to power thanks to a coalition with the Scottish National Party, under the control of the new Deputy Prime Minister Alex Salmond.

The new coalition needs to raise taxes to fund its increased spending plans – but the rises will only apply to English taxpayers. Salmond has insisted that the Scots are exempt as the price of his support.

The vast majority of English MPs are against the tax rises, but Labour are able to push them through thanks to the backing of SNP MPs who can vote for increased English taxes safe in the knowledge that their constituents will never have to pay them.

Crazy? You bet, but that could easily happen. William Hague has tried to find a compromise to the problem of EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) and has suggested English MPs could operate a veto on English-only legislation. But the Scots could still block English-only laws.

It is, at best, a fudge and could lead to a constitutional crisis. The rash promises made to the Scots by a panic-stricken political class in the days before the Scottish referendum have come back 
to bite us.