Rachel Reeves claims Labour can be pro-worker and pro-business

Shadow chancellor calls for closer collaboration, as business leaders sign letter saying Labour should be given chance to lead Britain

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves delivers a speech during a visit to Rolls-Royce in Derby, England, on Tuesday. AP
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UK shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has told business leaders that Labour can be trusted with the country's economy and that together with businesses and workers, the opposition party can "bring growth back to Britain".

In her first major election campaign speech on Tuesday, she said a Labour government would be both "pro-business and pro-worker" and Labour was the "natural party of British business".

“By bringing business back to Britain we can deliver a better future for working people,” she told a gathering of business leaders at a Rolls-Royce plant in Derby, in the East Midlands.

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 120 business leaders, including the former chief executives of Aston Martin, Heathrow Airport and The Times newspaper, appeared to back Labour's notion that it was time for change.

"Labour has shown it has changed and wants to work with business to achieve the UK’s full economic potential. We should now give it the chance to change the country and lead Britain into the future," the letter said.

One of the signatories is Rachel Coldicutt, the founder and executive director of technology research consultancy Careful Industries.

"Over the past two years, the Conservatives have shown that they are not particularly the party of small businesses and they're not supporting entrepreneurs," she told The National.

"I think, actually, the Conservatives have been focused on big picture, big money and not the day-to-day reality."

The founder of Wikipedia, Sir Jimmy Wales, and restaurateur Tom Kerridge have also signed, along with the founder of a childcare company in which Rishi Sunak's wife previously held shares.

However, no chief executives from the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange signed the letter.

Referring to the letter, Ms Reeves spoke of what she sees as the increasingly close relationship between the Labour party and the business community.

"A few years ago, you might not have expected to have heard these things from the Labour party. Think how far we've come under Keir Starmer's leadership in four short years," she said.

She said she is “not one of those politicians that thinks that the private sector is a dirty word, or a necessary evil”.

She added: “I want to lead the most pro-growth, the most pro-business Treasury that our country has ever seen, with a laser focus on delivering for working people."

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Ms Reeves spoke of the “five missions for a decade of national renewal” laid out by Labour leader Mr Starmer last week.

She detailed plans for 40,000 new NHS appointments every week, a Border Security Command to “smash the criminal gangs and strengthen our borders”, a publicly owned Great British Energy company, an antisocial behaviour crackdown and plans for 6,500 new teachers.

Mr Starmer has also tried to win over businesses to show the party can be trusted with the economy.

To a large extent, this seems to be working, given the attendance at a recent business summit convened by Labour in London, where senior party leaders, including Ms Reeves, spoke of a renewed and growing partnership with business.

Nonetheless, Ms Reeves' remarks about Labour being pro-worker and pro-business come after it faced a backlash over an apparent rebranding of its New Deal for Workers, with Britain’s largest trade union Unite warning the party must “stick to its guns” on workers’ rights.

Labour insisted it had not watered down its commitments and said the proposals had followed an agreement with the unions.

The Conservatives have argued that Labour’s proposals would cost jobs and place unnecessary burdens on businesses, but the opposition has claimed good businesses will welcome the plans.

Treasury chief secretary Laura Trott said Labour would “tie businesses in red tape”.

“The bosses of Asda, Marks & Spencer, Currys and the Confederation of British Industry have all warned that Labour’s French-style union laws risk damaging the economy, costing jobs,” Ms Trott said.

Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a clear plan that businesses can rely on.

“We took the bold action to deliver the biggest business tax cut in modern history. Labour would tie businesses in red tape and raise taxes by £2,094 ($2,675) on hardworking families.”

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Updated: May 28, 2024, 2:32 PM