Four reasons why big business attacks on Labour have failed

David Cameron and George Osborne address business leaders in Leeds
David Cameron and George Osborne address business leaders in Leeds
Adam Bienkov By

The recent attacks on Labour from big business leaders were designed to wound the party just as the election campaign got going.

The press gave huge front-page coverage to these attacks for days on end and yet polls conducted in the past two weeks have seen no noticeable shift in voting intention whatsoever.

The latest YouGov poll gives Labour a one point lead over the Tories, the same lead they held before the attacks began.

Here's four reasons why the attacks have failed to change minds.


1. Big business is not popular with the public

There has been a significant collapse in support for big business since the start of the financial crisis. A new YouGov poll for the Sunday Times out today found that more people now believe the government should "stand up" to big business rather than "support" them. Forty-nine per cent agreed with the statement: "Government should generally try to stand up to big businesses in Britain, as they too often use their size to take advantage of customers and suppliers." This included 60% of Labour supporters and even 31% of Conservative supporters. While a majority of Conservative voters said that government should be on the side of big business, these are not the people whose minds the Tories need to change.

2. The public don't want big business interfering in politics

A significant chunk of voters (38%) say business leaders "have every right" to comment on party political policies according to YouGov. However, a larger chunk (45%) believe they should stay neutral and "not get involved". This figure grows to 59% among Labour supporters.

3. Labour's "tax avoider" rebuttals were effective.

Ed Miliband came out with a surprisingly strong rebuttal to the attacks from Boots executive Stefano Pessina this week. He told an audience on Monday that "Yesterday the boss of Boots started telling people how to vote in the UK general election. Well, it turns out he lives in Monaco and is actually avoiding his taxes. I've got to tell you, I don't think people in Britain are going to take kindly to being lectured by someone who's avoiding his taxes on how they should be voting in the UK general election." All the signs are that Miliband is in touch with voters on this. According to the poll, 73% said it was "not acceptable for businessmen who don't live in Britain or pay British taxes to comment on British politics," as opposed to just 19% who said it was acceptable. This figure rose to 89% of Labour supporters who said it was unacceptable as opposed to just 6% who thought it was acceptable.

4. "They would say that wouldn't they?"

YouGov also asked whether voters believed big business had attacked Labour because they were Conservative supporters. Voters were much more split on this question with just 26% agreeing as opposed to 32%  who said the business leaders were sincere. However, this even split changes dramatically when only supporters of the two main parties were asked. According to the poll 52% of Labour supporters believe the business leaders only attacked the party because they support the Tories with just 9% saying they thought the attacks were sincere. This is opposed to a whopping 71% of Conservative supporters who thought the business leaders were genuine and just five per cent who thought they had political motives.

This is the most striking finding of all and explains exactly why the big business attacks have failed to change minds.

Of course lots of Tory voters will have agreed with Jim Pessina that Labour are anti-business, but then they already agreed with that. If however, the attacks from big business leaders were designed to win over Labour supporters then they were targeted at exactly the wrong group. Attacks from Tory-supporting business leaders are as likely to persuade Labour voters to switch their vote as attacks from Labour-supporting union leaders are likely to persuade Conservative voters to do the same.

If the intention of the attacks was simply to harden up Tory support then there is a chance they will be effective. If however, they were designed to actually alter anybody's vote then all the evidence is they have failed.

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