Putting the Boots in: with enemies like these…

04 February 2015 -


Labour’s leader has raised hackles among captains of industry this week. Does that mean he must be doing something right?

Jon Bennett

It’s said that you’re known by the company you keep. That truism certainly pervades politics. UK party leaders grapple for that flattering photo shoot with President Obama that makes them look statesmanlike. Equally, they wrestle for a meet-and-greet with the great and good of stage and screen. After all, as the old adage goes, politics is show business for ugly people – so grab any chance you can to bathe in the halo of celebrity.

But while defining yourself by your friends creates goodwill by association, turning this on its head is in many ways more powerful. Which is why attempts to criticise Ed Miliband this week could yet play into the Labour leader’s hands.


Comments from Boots chairman Stefano Pessina – that if Labour acted as they speak, it would be “a catastrophe” – have given the opposition leader a useful platform to restate his views on tax avoidance. Mr Pessina bases himself in Monaco. While he may well be keen on the food and the climate, his accountant probably gave it the thumbs up too. If recent polls are to be believed, tax avoidance – legal or otherwise – resonates with the mood of the British people. If the likes of Mr Pessina don’t like Miliband, then a few British voters may decide he must be doing something right.

Closer to home, Lord Mandelson has taken to the airwaves with criticisms of the Mansion Tax proposal. His arguments – that the proposal is rather crude – are balanced and managerial, rather than ideological. But the erstwhile Prince of Darkness doesn’t go on the record without knowing how his comments will be reported. In this case, as a direct attack on Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Again, the source of the attack may be no bad thing. Peter Mandelson isn’t widely liked among the voters, or indeed within his own party. He had the temerity to take Labour to three election victories, after all, and no one likes a winner. Being able to set himself against the architect of New Labour may yield advantages for a Labour leader looking to cut ties with the past.

So, has it been a strong week for Labour in which the right people have chosen to pick a fight?

Perhaps. But the party is charting a risky course. By allowing itself to be set against business, Labour is open to attacks from a constituency that knows how to use the media – and also holds the purse strings. So when Ed Balls can’t name one of his party's business supporters, things start to look a little bleak. Miliband would like to tread a careful line in which he is pro that part of business that pays its tax and generates jobs and growth, while against those global businesses that seem to float above national laws. It’s a nuanced position that gives Labour something to oppose with passion – but risks being caricatured by an active business lobby looking to sideline Labour’s campaign.

Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications.

For more thoughts on achieving authenticity in leadership, sign up to this forthcoming CMI seminar.

Image of Stefano Pessina courtesy of Walgreens Boots Alliance, via Wikipedia.

Image of Ed Miliband courtesy of landmarkmedia / Shutterstock.

Powered by Professional Manager