Labour’s attempts to prove it is pro business backfired on Tuesday night when the shadow chancellor Ed Balls was unable to remember the name of one of the party’s key supporters.
In a bid to prove Labour did have support from some of the most influential names in business, Balls’ attempts to reel off the names was over before it began when interviewed by Newsnight. The best he could come up with was someone named Bill.
Asked by presenter Emily Maitlis whether it was worrying that the 63 business leaders who wrote to the Financial Times backing Labour in 2005 were silent ahead of May’s general election, Balls insisted the party did have support.
“I’ve been at a dinner tonight with a number of business-supporting Labour figures,” he said. Who were they, Maitlis asked?
“Well, em, Bill. The former chief executive of EDS who I was just talking to…”
Seizing on his uncertainty, Maitlis pressed: “What was his name?”
At which point the shadow chancellor had to admit he couldn’t actually remember. “It has just gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night.”
The hole got deeper when Maitlis replied: “Okay. So frankly you’ve got Bill somebody. Have we got anyone else? Cos you were talking about 63 or 50 FTSE 100 leaders. Now we’ve got Bill somebody.”
More embarrassing still, Balls was actually referring to Bill Thomas, who chaired Labour’s small business taskforce. The shadow chancellor later apologised on Twitter, saying Thomas would never forgive him for the slip, adding: “It’s an age thing.”
Lord Jones delivered another blow to Labour on Wednesday morning. The former head of business lobby group the CBI, and a trade minister under Gordon Brown, Lord Jones told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Balls’ slip was indicative of “a much bigger problem with business” for Labour.
He added: “They haven’t got the support that New Labour used to have years ago.”
Earlier this week the Labour leader Ed Miliband became embroiled in a row with Boots boss Stefano Pessina, who expressed fears over the prospect of a Labour goverment.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010