Red Ed blasts the titans of commerce

The head of Boots, Stefano Pessina, struck a nerve when he called Labour's policies "anti-business". Emily Hohler reports.

Labour leader Ed Miliband's "difference of opinion with various titans of commerce and their brethren in the Conservative press" is a golden opportunity, says Matthew Norman in The Independent. The row kicked off when Stefano Pessina, the owner of Boots, warned that Labour's "anti-business" policies would be a disaster for Britain. It escalated when Labour retaliated with references to Boots' tax affairs.

Pessina has since been joined by Luke Johnson, the Pizza Express boss; Lord Rose, the former boss of M&S, fretting about the "punitive taxes on business people"; and Sir Ian Cheshire, once of B&Q, who accused Labour of trying to "stifle the debate" by attacking Pessina.

This is "confected hysteria", says Norman. Labour isn't anti-business. It is anti corporate tax avoidance. Miliband needs to spell this out. He should add that firms have "never had it so good since the economic crash gifted them a huge... cheap workforce in... terror of the sack". He is not driven by "adolescent dreams of a socialist utopia" but by "moral and economic imperatives to temper the more grotesque excesses of unethical capitalism".

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His decision to hit back at Pessina suggests he is taking this approach,says The Times. Miliband believes that voters are "happy to accept a more critical line" on big business. However, most "sensible Labour supporters" would acknowledge that a "war between big businesses and a new government" will not serve Britain well. "Nor will it be helped by the increased labour-market regulation and corporate taxes that a Miliband administration is likely to introduce."

Labour is treading a thin line and it knows it, says Patrick Jenkins in the Financial Times. It is aware that its "anti-business reputation could backfire on election day". Hence its current charm offensive in the City. Labour knows that the City is particularly worried about the Tory party's anti-European wing and the "destabilising prospect of a referendum on EU membership".

At a dinner late last year, Miliband was "more emollient" than many expected, but still presented Labour's offering as "a mix of give and take", according to one guest. "There was support for Europe and the TTIP free-trade deal with the US on one hand. But tougher taxes on the other."

Pessina "struck a nerve" and that is why Miliband responded so angrily, says The Daily Telegraph. Throughout Miliband's leadership, the Labour Party has been "relentlessly, inexorably anti-business". It occasionally pays "lip service" to capitalism's ability to create wealth and jobs, but this has been "drowned out by attacks on landlords, energy suppliers, railway companies, financiers, bankers and anyone else" perceived as a "predator" rather than a "producer".

Pessina is right to "sound the alarm. After all, he knows a greatdeal more about the creation of jobs and the wealth that jobs bring thanMr Miliband."

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.