Nick Clegg is giving a speech this evening in which he will try to re-sell the Liberal Democrats as friends of business. Admitting that he hasn’t ‘said enough’ about the party’s pro-business policies, he will tell the guests at Mansion House:
‘Many in the corporate world do not – automatically – see the Liberal Democrats as natural allies. Perhaps that’s because, most recently, we’ve rightly earned ourselves a reputation as loud critics of corporate irresponsibility… Not least in financial service following the crash in 2008. Yet, historically, the Liberal Democrats are a party of industrialists and small business… And, since coming into government, we’ve been taking decisions, day in, day out, to promote British business.’
Those decisions include ‘ensuring a sensible approach to Europe’, a ‘sensible approach to immigration’ and ‘pushing for more investment in green industry’. Strangely enough, these are all areas where the two coalition parties disagree. In particular, while the Conservatives see Europe as a barrier to business – research by Open Europe has found that 71 per cent of the £176 billion cost of regulation to the UK economy since 1998 originated from EU legislation – the Lib Dems are wary of attempts to scale back Britain’s relationship with the EU. While Nick Clegg wants to increase investment in green energy, Tories are concerned about the effects that picking winners will have on energy bills. He does have a point when he says the Lib Dems are ‘determined to defend and deepen the Single Market – protecting our place in it’, as it is this that business leaders worry the most about.
But what is striking is that the leader of the party which runs the Business department is having to make a speech in which he says ‘I want you to be confident that my party is on business’ side’. It doesn’t say a great deal for Vince Cable’s work as Business Secretary that his boss feels the need to persuade business leaders that the Lib Dems do like them and care about them, as though they might possibly have failed to notice that so far.