Four things we learned from the British Chambers of Commerce conference: Europe, Miliband's absence, women in business and a British Mittelstand

Lynsey Barber
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The British Chambers of Commerce annual conference hosted politicians ahead of the General Election (Source: Getty)

1. Where’s Ed?

The audience of business leaders at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) annual conference attracted government's top tier today. Put them all in the same room together and it may as well have been PMQs… except for one notable absence.

An Ed Miliband shaped hole in the line-up did not go unnoticed by rivals who took the opportunity for some political point scoring. Labour may have hoped to ingratiate itself with the business world after a tough week but the absence speaks louder than any words said by shadow cabinet members Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna.

Even George Osborne, attending a meeting in Istanbul, managed to send a video message, even if it was reminiscent of a recorded awards acceptance speech. This isn't the Oscars ceremony George.

No word yet on the inescapable prior engagement Miliband was at instead.

2. More women in business… but not on stage

Nick Clegg wants to get more women in work- another million by 2020 to be exact. The Lib Dems admit there’s a glass ceiling that needs to be addressed by leaders in both business and politics.

This was no more evident than on stage at the conference, where, except for BBC journalist Linda Yueh and a welcome from BCC president Nora Senior, women on stage were relegated to an afternoon panel on the “soft” subject of skills.

3. In, out, shake it all about

Who’s in and who’s out when it comes to Europe?

The BCC director general John Longworth was first up this morning to say business want Britain to stay in Europe but backed reform, however the business group warned a vote needs to happen quickly- within 12 months of the General Election to be precise.

Next up, Ed Balls outlined Labour’s view that EU reform is the way to go, calling “flirting” with an exit risky for business and disagreeing with Longworth, and the Tories naturally, that the earlier the referendum, the better.

David Cameron said businesses are increasingly getting behind the Tories after Longworth’s call for a quickie. Clegg on the other hand, did not weigh in on the matter of the European Union.

4. The British Mittelstand

A host of middle-sized businesses creating the backbone of Britain? It worked for Germany pretty well throughout the downturn, now Cameron want’s to recreate a bit of German magic. Wunderbar.

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