THE BLOG
12/06/2015 07:30 BST | Updated 11/06/2016 06:59 BST

When Is Being Anti-Business Not Being Anti-Business?

The speech by Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, threatening more jail time for market abusers and insider dealers, could be portrayed as being anti-business but it hasn't. Labour, on the other hand, suffered at the election, because it was thought they were anti-business. But was there really that much difference?

Carney spoke about 'more restrictive regulation' and reversing the tide of 'ethical drift'. His speech came in the same week that complaints were heard about the bank levy and HSBC announced the loss of 8,000 jobs in the UK as well as reiterating the prospect of moving their HQ away from London. So in the City, there is the prospect of a making a tough regulatory environment even tougher. Admittedly, the reputation of the banks remain low, despite the work of many of those to counter but costs and regulation are two classic 'anti-business' measures. Carney's speech could be said to be one of the most anti-business speech by anyone for years.

The Government meanwhile continues to introduce moves against immigration which businesses complain are limiting their access to the skills base they need. The very threat of withdrawal from the European Union and the uncertainty that is causing is 'anti-business'.

But it remains Labour that is seen as 'anti-business'.

But businesses to realise that there is a problem with business. The ongoing Great Business Debate led by the CBI aims 'to help build public confidence in business'. As they say, 'only around half of people believe business makes a positive contribution to society and we want to play a part in increasing that figure.' So Labour was playing to an agenda and a level of public sentiment that exists.

A lot of Labour's problems though seem to be down to perception. If people expected the party to have a position then they could point to policies that proved their case. But importantly, it is the way in which measures are communicated as well.

The reason why Labour was seen as being 'anti-business' was that they were happy to be seen to be standing up for consumers. Market interventions were not being advocated as a way of making markets more efficient but of protecting people. This allowed the policies to be used by opponents to show that the Party did not understand business. It also left the party exposed when the markets did start to make at least some self-correction, for instance in energy.

Business leaders seem more prepared to speak out against Labour whereas they appear more silent on other matters. Labour under John Smith had a 'prawn cocktail offensive' to start to win back the confidence of the City and it largely worked. Did that mean that the Party under-regulated the City during Blair's time in office can only be speculated upon.

The Coalition Government did move against red tape and regulation but so did Peter Mandelson. The Coalition eventually put popular industrial policies in place but so did the previous Labour Government. The Coalition prioritised infrastructure but so did Labour.

Personalities also played badly for Labour in the business agenda as well. Miliband and Balls did not inspire confidence and there was at the very least a guilty by association with the banking crash and deficit. Not talking about these issues did not serve the party well. There were wider issues about their competency to manage the economy.

The idea that a majority Conservative Party government will be lighter on business will prove to be false. As the City found out during Carney's speech, the Bank of England as supervisor, has action in mind and the Government is not distancing itself. You can also look at the public health debate and see that sugar is very much on the agenda for potential action.

The Government sells the story of its intervention in way that does not frighten businesses. Labour failed at this. Given public opinion and the Government's own actions, it is not the case that 'anti-business' measures are off the agenda but if you are going to do them then there is a need to get the message right.