LONDON (Reuters) - Over 100 British company bosses publicly backed Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government on Wednesday and warned a change of course for Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy under a Labour government would put the recovery at risk.
Opinion polls ahead of the May 7 election indicate neither Cameron’s Conservatives nor the opposition Labour Party will win an overall majority in the 650-seat parliament as millions of voters turn to once marginal parties.
It is a highly unusual situation for Britain, which has only had one formal coalition government since the end of World War Two.
“We believe this Conservative-led Government has been good for business and has pursued policies which have supported investment and job creation,” the business leaders said in an open letter published in the Telegraph newspaper.
“We believe a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment. This would send a negative message about Britain and put the recovery at risk,” the chief executives said.
Among the 103 signatories were BP CEO Bob Dudley, the boss of Arcadia retail group Philip Green, entrepreneur Luke Johnson and the outgoing boss of insurer Prudential Tidjane Thiam, who is due to become the CEO of Credit Suisse.
Splashed across the front page of the Daily Telegraph under the headline “100 business chiefs: Labour threatens Britain’s Economy”, the CEO’s said the Conservative-led government’s cut in corporation tax had shown Britain is open for business.
The closest British election in a generation has flummoxed seasoned politicians and financiers who are poring over opinion polls and Westminster seat predictions to see who might rule.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, cast by domestic media as ‘Red Ed’, has spooked some business chiefs by promising tighter regulation, energy price controls and describing some firms as “predators”.
In the run up to the 2010 election, 23 business leaders backed the Conservatives in a similar letter.
“No one will be surprised that some business people are calling for low taxes for big businesses,” said Labour’s business spokesman Chuka Umunna.
“We don’t believe, as David Cameron does, in more tax cuts for the richest in society - the priority is tax cuts for small firms, working people and saving our NHS.”
Labour issued its own business list earlier in the week, seeking to play on business fears of a Conservative in-out referendum on British European Union membership.
It was criticized for simply featuring quotes and implying support for Labour that may not have been there.
Wednesday’s sharp pro-Conservative rebuke from the bosses indicates the shift in Labour’s relations with business since former Labour leader Tony Blair, who courted business in the run up to the 1997 election which he won.
The letter published on Wednesday was signed by at least five business leaders who have previously supported Labour. In total the company bosses, who said they were signing in a personal capacity, employ more than half a million people.
The CEO of Costa owner Whitbread Andy Harrison, chairman of engineer Meggitt Nigel Rudd, the chairman of Dixons Carphone Charles Dunstone, boss of Primark-owner Associated British Foods George Weston and the CEO of oil firm Tullow Aidan Heavey were amongst the FTSE 100 bosses who signed the letter.
The list also includes Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg, at whose London offices Miliband unveiled his business manifesto. Reuters is a competitor to Bloomberg LP. Both companies provide news, data and information to business and media clients.
A Labour plan announced on Wednesday to increase rights for workers on flexible contracts was immediately criticized by the Confederation of British Industry, a powerful employers’ organization, who said the policy was “wide of the mark”.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge/Jeremy Gaunt