Rightly or wrongly, profit and big business *are* dirty words to the electorate


David Cameron will today give his keynote speech to Tory party conference and, if reports are to be believed, will mount a strident defence of big business.

David Cameron speech“It is businesses that get wages in people’s pockets, food on their tables, hope for their families and success for their country,” he will reportedly say.

What’s interesting is not so much the fact that the leader of the Conservative party is pro-business, which ought to be expected, but rather that he is going to give a speech that is so unashamedly pro-big business at a time when the popularity of large corporations is at rock bottom.

Last week I warned that, regardless of the pros and cons of the policy, David Cameron is in a tricky spot over Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze. The public back action on energy firms. Overwhelmingly, in fact. More than eight out of 10 UK consumers feel energy suppliers maximise profits at the expense of customers, with utilities coming behind only banking, gambling, local councils and government departments in terms of their sheer unpopularity with the electorate.

Whether or not a price freeze is the right solution to the problem of high energy prices, it’s hard to believe that a robust defence of big business – energy companies are just about as ‘big business’ as it gets – is going to win David Cameron many plaudits.

Indeed, when it comes to big business the centre ground has shifted decisively leftwards in recent years. A ComRes poll earlier this month found that 69 per cent wanted energy renationalised. Seventy per cent are against the sell-off of the Royal Mail, 53 per cent believe private sector involvement in the NHS undermines the health service and, as for the railways, a poll conducted last year found that over half the public supported full nationalisation.

With George Osborne referencing Marxism in his speech, the Daily Mail talking of a battle between ‘Socialism’ and ‘capitalism’ and, today, David Cameron ruminating on the theoretical benefits of corporate capitalism, it appears the Tories are more concerned with theory than practice. Rather than offering solutions to public concern about falling living standards, the Tories and the right more broadly are offering free-market dogma.

This potentially leaves Labour in a very nice position.

While there may indeed be a case for expounding the benefits of global capitalism in the university seminar – millions have been dragged out of poverty in the last 20 years in China and India by capitalist development; and even Karl Marx recognised capitalism’s potential for dynamism and innovation – for most people, this is abstract nonsense. What people want to know is whether they are going to have more money in their pocket next year, or less. They don’t care whether the big energy companies are ‘creating wealth'; they want to know whether their gas bill is going to go up by another 4 per cent this winter.

During conference season Ed Miliband has said something concrete on these issues. Thus far, the Tory party has not. This perhaps explains why, according to the latest YouGov poll, Labour now enjoys a 10 point lead.

Today’s speech by David Cameron may in fact represent a much bigger political development: it is now the right, rather than the left, which sees ideology as of greater importance than reality. After all, launching a triumphalist defence of the very entities the public increasingly feel they are being ripped off by may please your average Thatcherite, but it’s unlikely to go down anywhere near as well outside of the conference hall.

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  • janlog

    Absoutely right on all counts. This government has abdicated the social contract that exists between them and the electorate. And they robbed us of the ability to get them out in less than 5 years – half a decade in which to wreak havoc on the social institutions that their rightwing ideology despises but which the public mostly loves.

    I wonder if we’ll ever be the same again.

  • treborc1

    We are going to have to wait, the ten point lead will soon evaporate and we are going to have to wait until about Christmas next year to know how close it will be at the 2015 election.

    I doubt to many people will vote for Ed because of his socialism or his leadership, and I doubt to many will vote for Cameron because he is big business.

    I have a feeling the main person will be Clegg and his new coalition party.

  • treborc1

    We are going to have to wait, the ten point lead will soon evaporate and we are going to have to wait until about Christmas next year to know how close it will be at the 2015 election.

    I doubt to many people will vote for Ed because of his socialism or his leadership, and I doubt to many will vote for Cameron because he is big business.

    I have a feeling the main person will be Clegg and his new coalition party.

  • Rupert Myers

    ‘Profit’ is a dirty word… only to those who sit in their meaningless public sector jobs.

    Big business not popular at all at the moment. Rightly so. Keeping a check on corrupt monopolies such as energy, healthcare and railways – absolutely. Tories out: yes please.

    But ‘profit’ also applies to entrepreneurs, those working for SMEs, and in social enterprise…

    These are voters Labour should win over with a message of responsible capitalism. Those on the Left who write off all ‘profit’ as necessarily connected to ‘big business’ and therefore ‘evil’… appear not to understand this.

  • JR

    Good analysis – spot on about the shift in the right towards theory and idealism vs. reality.

    My view: The greatest political question facing the UK over the next ten years is how the right in Britain deals with our home grown ‘teaparty tendancy’. Now this is the Liam Foxes and Douglas Carswells, and others more embedded. Later it could be more extreme.

    Leaving the public behind is the first symptom – the next is reality (see climate change). Progression is Cameron is not part of this cult but, win or lose in 2015, it is him and his cabal who will remain fighting for the centre / Tory Reform Group ground that has been largely ceeded to the Lib Dems and bits of Labour.

    On the left we could see this shift as beneficial. This is wrong; it will polarise debate and poison our press even further. (Paul Dacre’s recent McCarthyite insanity not withstanding).

  • Aidan Campbell

    “Profit – Excess of revenues over outlays and expenses in a business enterprise over a given period of time, usually a year.” Profit is not a bad thing. The pursuit of profit by manipulating, lying, cheating and exploiting because of greed is a very nasty way to do business.

  • http://www.bizdrive.biz/ Judy Jones

    Absolutely right thing you are telling the readers and all will be impressed by reading this article Nice profit of big business.

  • Me

    Based on an efficient economy then profit is a dirty word. Profit should attract competition and completion should eliminate the profit. Any long term profit can only arise from monopoly practices or high barriers to entry.

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