Tory candidates bid for business support

The candidates for the Conservative leadership today attempted to woo business leaders at the CBI annual conference in London.

Both David Davis and David Cameron attacked chancellor Gordon Brown’s economic record, warning that high-tax and high-spend policies were leading to a slowdown in growth and declining UK competitiveness.

However, Mr Davis admitted that where the Conservatives used to be seen as the party of business, “we have been usurped by our political opponents”, adding: “We must regain that role, and soon.”

Both candidates focused on the problem of the pensions crisis, ahead of the publication of the final report from Adair Turner’s pension commission on Wednesday and amid building pressure for the government to scrap last month’s deal with public sector workers.

Mr Cameron accused the chancellor of a “craven surrender” in allowing these workers to retire at 60 – Lord Turner is expected to call for a general rise in retirement age to 67 – and argued that any pensions scheme must be equitable for private and public sector workers.

Meanwhile, his rival warned that the pension protection fund was “yet another stealth tax” that threatened to cripple small businesses, and cut the private sector’s ability to prepare for its own workers’ retirement.

“We need to set business free, to break the shackles which hold back our most innovative entrepreneurs. We need to reduce the tax, pension and regulatory burden and allow businessmen and women to do what they do best – create jobs and wealth,” Mr Davis said.

“If we in politics provide you in business with the kind of economic environment you can flourish in, we’ll have done our job, so you can do yours.”

In his speech, Mr Cameron also stressed the need to create wealth by giving businesses the freedom to operate, and “make Britain the best place in the world to do business”.

Unlike his rival, he has refused to outline specific policies on tax, but today insisted he believed in reducing taxes on employment and wealth creation to improve competitiveness.

A top priority, Mr Cameron continued, “should be to restore prudence to the management of the nation’s finances”, while he said he would also cut the EU regulatory burden on businesses.

Today’s conference was one of the final opportunities for the two Tory leadership candidates to put forward their case for succeeding Michael Howard, ahead of the deadline for ballots from party members next Monday.