"Even if Labour doesn't wish to harm business, this isn't sufficiently clear. It needs sorting out in the coming year," Lord Mandelson told the FT.
He was right. Ed Miliband has allowed himself to be painted as relentlessly anti-business. Some of the criticism is of the kneejerk variety but the Labour leader, when he is attacking "irresponsible" businesses, doesn't help himself sometimes.
His proposal to inject more competition into the banking sector suffered from being half-baked. Miliband seemed to want a full competition inquiry (good idea) but also wished it to reach the predetermined conclusion that two new "challenger" banks should somehow be created by means that were left unspecified.
Now comes the softer rhetoric. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls on Monday declared Labour to be "pro-business, but not business-as-usual". That's a better pitch. Some of the details were interesting, too. Cutting and freezing business rates will play well with many small businesses, even at the cost of another cut in corporation tax. And a so-called "allowance for corporate equity" – a tax break to equalise the treatment of equity and debt financing – sounds interesting if Labour is serious about curing "short-termism that has become an entrenched feature of the UK business environment". Details to follow, of course, but the direction is correct.
One suspects that nothing Balls or Miliband could say would forestall the traditional pre-election dispatch of anti-Labour letters to newspapers from captains of industry and business. But Miliband would do well to acquire a couple of supporters from within the ranks of FTSE 100 chairmen and chief executives. At the moment, you'd be hard-pressed to name a single one.
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