Labour's business woes: Industry leaders savage Ed Miliband's attack on Boots boss

Guy Bentley
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Miliband under fire from business leaders (Source: Getty)

Ed Miliband's decision to come out all guns blazing against Boots boss Stefano Pessina may have back-fired after a swathe of business leaders took to the media to condemn the Labour leader.

Speaking yesterday at event for young voters, the Labour leader hit back at Pessina's claim that a Labour government would be a "catastrophe" for Britain.

Miliband told the audience:

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 at the UK General Election.

You've now got this unholy alliance between the Conservative party and people like him who are saying the country can't change.

This has elicited a host of reactions from industry leaders that will leave George Osborne smiling.

The former chief executive of the group behind B&Q, Sir Ian Cheshire, defended Pessina's right to voice his opinion even if he wasn't a UK resident, describing Miliband's remarks as "pretty unattractive".

Speaking to the Telegraph, he added:

I don’t think it is necessary to have personal attacks on Stefano in this way – particularly for a guy who has really ploughed a lot of money into the UK and is doing now to make Boots a world force.

Leading industrialist and chairman of Heathrow airport Sir Nigel Rudd also piled in, saying Labour's response had "stifled debate" and "made people think twice about voicing their opinions".

Tory peer and chairman of Ocado, Lord Rose, penned a withering article in today's Daily Mail:

"Labour’s attack this week on a major British business smacked of the destructive anti-business mood that went out of political fashion decades ago", he wrote.

Rose, formerly executive chairman of Marks & Spencer, noted that more than 40 per cent of chief executives in the FTSE 100 were non-UK citizens, arguing it was still valid for them to express political judgements and opinions on the economic direction of the country.

Former Pizza Express boss Luke Johnson told readers of this morning's Sun Labour "are ignorant of the way markets and capitalism works".

Osborne will be encouraged by the number of business leaders and organisations warning of the dangers of a Labour government. At this year's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, the chancellor urged chief executives to speak up about the success of British business, telling them the dark days of the financial crisis and an anti-business climate were over.

Many business leaders have become wary of the Labour's attitudes toward free enterprise. Promises of energy price freezes, higher taxes and tighter labour market regulation are a dramatic shift from the days of New Labour's prawn cocktail offensive.

A slew of figures from Labour's past including Lord Mandleson and Alan Milburn have come out in recent weeks to warn against some of the party's more left-wing policies.

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