Tory anti-immigration rhetoric is resulting in a backlash from business.
Since Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour Party back in 2010 it has become almost de rigeur on the right to denounce him as ‘Red Ed’ – the implication being that he and the party he leads are in some sense anti-business.
The accusation has rested largely upon the fact that Miliband has proposed a few mildly (and overdue) social democratic reforms to help ease the so-called cost of living crisis.
That hasn’t stopped the hysteria though. Shortly after announcing his flagship energy price freeze, City AM editor Allister Heath branded Miliband a “demagogue [who] wants to fuel tensions and the politics of envy”. Britain was on the “road to tyranny”, according to Iain Martin writing in the Telegraph.
Yes, they really did write those things.
Ignoring the hyperbole for a second, what’s really interesting is how wrong the aforementioned commentators were in their basic premise: that it is Labour, rather than the Tories, who are now anti-business.
I understand that me saying this may come as a surprise to some; after all, it’s usually those of us on the left who have to bat away the allegation that we are anti-business. But just take a look for a second at how the Tory obsession with immigration – and more specifically, the strong survival urge the party has to appease UKIP – is beginning to worry British business.
Don’t take my word for it. Instead have a glance at the front page of today’s City AM, hardly the house journal of the left.
“Firms lash out at government over migration,” the headline reads; however the real fun starts once you get a little further into the piece.
The director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, has accused the government of “feeble and pathetic” political positioning over its plans for tighter immigration controls. In a stinging rebuke to immigration minister James Brokenshire, Walker said the UK was “an open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants”.
“We will not become more prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world,” he added.
The British Chambers of Commerce also called on the government to base its immigration policy on “evidence not ideology.”
This substance of this criticism is far more damning than any of the hyperbole that has been thrown at Ed Miliband in recent months, and it reflects a tension at the heart of modern conservatism which is threatening to damage the British economy.
It’s an open secret that the Tory party is divided between those who want to win back UKIP voters and those who believe the key to victory in 2015 lies firmly in the centre ground. The former want the party to tack to the right by being ‘tough’ on things like welfare and immigration, while the latter understandable wish to focus on aspiration and living standards.
Unfortunately for thinking Conservatives, it is the former who are in the ascendant; and this is why Tory claims to be the party of business are looking increasingly flimsy.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.