Business backlash after Miliband speech

By Alex Stevenson

Ed Miliband has insisted his leader's speech was "pro-business", amid a cacophony of criticism from the business world at his rhetoric.

The Labour leader criticised "asset-strippers" and those who sold their grandmothers "for a fast buck" in his speech to delegates in Liverpool yesterday.

Senior business figures have responded with suspicion and alarm to his arguments, pointing out that law-abiding companies should not be portrayed so negatively.

But Mr Miliband stuck to his guns this morning, insisting that his message was not "anti-business" but "anti-business-as-usual".

Former CBI head Digby Jones told the BBC that Mr Miliband was decisively not pro-business. Instead he called the comments "a kick in the teeth for the only sector that generates wealth that pays the tax and creates the jobs this country needs".

He said the country needed leaders rather than "playing to a union gallery".

British Chambers of Commerce director-general John Longworth said talk of 'good' and 'bad companies missed the point.

"All businesses that create wealth, pay their taxes and comply with the law are good companies," he said.

"Much of what Ed Miliband said today is encouraging. But it is still unclear whether the politicians fully understand that all the good things we want to see from our public services depend fundamentally on wealth creation by businesses of all shapes and sizes."

John Cridland, the current director-general of the CBI, said: "With growth weak, Ed Miliband is looking for a new business model, but he must be careful not to characterise some businesses as asset strippers.

"We need businesses to create the wealth and jobs upon which our country’s economic recovery will depend."

Despite their concerns, Mr Miliband continued to voice concerns about businesses this morning.

"For me, predatory behaviour is when a business does something in its own short-term interests but does significant long-term damage to the economy," he explained in an interview with the Today programme.

Mr Miliband said he was frustrated with the idea, adopted by governments of both parties, that "somehow free markets land from outer space and the rules can't influence it". He added: "That's wrong and I don't agree with that."

He warned that he feared there are "longstanding problems" about the way Britain's economy works.

"Wealth creation needs to be sustainable for our country," Mr Miliband said.

"I think this is a pro-business message that speaks to people up and down the country – small businesses who are not getting a good deal from the banks."

Meanwhile the Labour party faces charges of hypocrisy for its own dealings with senior business figures.

Former tax exile Andrew Rosenfeld's £1 million pledge to the Labour party has attracted the anger of a Conservative MP, John Glen, the Financial Times newspaper reported.

Separately, Mr Miliband raised eyebrows after championing former Rolls Royce chief executive Sir John Rose as a "great British business leader".

Sir John starts at investment bank Rothschild as deputy chairman next month.