Paul Walsh, the former chief executive of Diageo, signed a letter along with over 100 other business leaders, endorsing the policies of the Conservative party as good for business. The letter said: “We run some of the leading businesses in the UK. We believe this Conservative-led government has been good for business and has pursued policies which have supported investment and job creation.”
Walsh has previously donated to the Conservative party, and has also appeared at Davos with Prime Minister David Cameron.
While the signatories said they were signing in a personal capacity, Walsh did so at a time when he is bidding to be the president of the famously impartial Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
People with knowledge of the situation expressed surprise at Walsh’s high profile intervention. The membership vote which will confirm who succeeds current president Sir Mike Rake will take place just days after the General Election next month.
There is concern that if both Labour and Walsh win, Walsh will be denied the high level of access previous presidents have had, due to his outspoken support for the Conservatives. As a result, it is thought that Walsh’s move could actually deter CBI members from supporting him at the meeting.
Yesterday, the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said in an interview: “It is quite difficult to claim to be independent and impartial whilst at the same time being part of an exercise like this organised and coordinated by the Conservative party”.
A CBI spokesperson pointed out that the next president has not yet been announced, and commented: “The CBI is a politically neutral organisation and its senior post holders will always act impartially.”