Labour's uneasy relationship with business has left scars on the party’s back, and this weekend old wounds were reopened as Jeremy Corbyn echoed his predecessor and launched an attack on Boots.
Ed Miliband famously exchanged (verbal) blows with the global chief executive of the pharmacy giant, Stefano Pessina, back in February when the Boots boss suggested a Labour victory could mean catastrophe for the UK economy. Miliband said he wouldn’t be lectured by a “tax exile from Monaco”.
Yesterday, Corbyn picked up Miliband’s baton and attacked the “sophistry” used by Boots to minimise its tax liabilities. It looks like Labour is about to rerun an approach to business and wealth creation that contributed so significantly to its thumping defeat at the ballot box just five months ago.
This is a great shame. Labour may not be in an election winning mood right now – preferring instead the comfort of socialist idealism and protest politics – but it will be missing a trick if it doesn’t take this opportunity to think seriously about a radical new approach to business and enterprise.
Populist attacks on complex international business might play well at this week’s Labour party conference, but they won’t pass for an original, thoughtful approach to business policy. The truth is that for all of Corbyn’s corporation bashing we are living through the democratisation of capitalism.
Barriers to entry have never been lower, startups are positively booming, alternative finance streams are shaking the old order and a new generation of entrepreneurs is taking full advantage of a technological, cultural and economic climate that currently makes this country one of the best places on earth to start a business.
Labour needs to demonstrate that it understands this, and that it’s excited by it. Viewing business simply as a means by which the state can be funded is to ignore a revolution that’s transforming a generation’s attitude to work, enterprise and business. Millennials in particular are combining a desire to run their own business with an awareness of social purpose.
This new environment should have Labour written all over it, and presents an opportunity for the party to become a champion of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Will this happen under Corbyn’s leadership? Don’t hold your breath.