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Producers, predators and occupation

When Ed Miliband talked of dividing the UK into good and bad businesses, and ‘rewarding’ good businesses through ‘taxation, regulation and celebration’, it seemed like the speech of a Labour opposition targeting the party faithful. Most people, including the last Labour Government, can only spot good from bad with the benefit of hindsight. And the words themselves seemed off-key – in business, as in nature, predators exist and they’re not by definition bad. Now the dust has settled, however, things seem slightly different. Ed Miliband may never become Prime Minister, but the words producer and predator have, I suspect, entered the lexicon of public policy language about business. At the Conservative conference, David Cameron promised on Sunday to be the party of business but the next day, George Osborne (to the surprise of many in the City) continued the ‘banker bashing’ rhetoric. Talk of Governments intervening in industry has also crossed party boundaries. Ed Miliband got one of his biggest cheers when he promised the Labour Party would be a Government that would intervene in industry. In Manchester, rising Tory star Margot James MP recounted how she’d previously laughed at the idea of Government’s picking ‘winners and losers’ but now – having seen the success of central planning in countries like Singapore, had become a convert. For business, this all means a lot more Government than many had hoped for – as evidenced by the increasing pressure on the energy industry over the last few days. For the immediate future, it seems that the language used to discuss business will remain negative and may well worsen. Politicians court popularity, and there’s popularity and votes in criticizing business excess. The pressure will remain on business in areas of executive pay, diversity (last week saw a Cameron-endorsed focus on women in boardrooms) and corporate governance generally. For the long-term I remain convinced that those of us in the ‘corporate world’ face a communications challenge to convince the country of the value of capitalism and the benefits of our key industries, particularly financial services. Sustainability, in all its guises – encompassing environmental factors, fair trade with the developing world and fair profits – is likely to be the key concept for sometime to come. In the short-term this climate of negativity towards business will play a part in stimulating direct action targeting business, whether it be by UK Uncut or Occupy the London Stock Exchange. We can probably expect more of the same with further demonstrations later this year. After all, if politicians talk of business in a negative way, so will everyone else. Employees, business partners and potential employees will also be asking whether a business is a producer or a predator? Two thoughts spring to mind: firstly, it’s worth committing to any collective attempts to promote business and secondly, it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking how to explain why your company is a producer. For more information about Lansons Communications please contact Tony Langham at tonyl@lansons.com