UK Politics

David Cameron criticises 'snobbish' attacks on business

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Media captionDavid Cameron says businesses can help to "smash poverty"

Prime Minister David Cameron has said attacks on business are motivated by "snobbery" and that enterprise is a force for "social progress".

In a speech in London, he urged people to resist the "dangerous rhetoric" of those who say business is inherently self-interested and cannot be trusted.

All parties have urged more responsible capitalism after a row over bonuses.

Labour's Chuka Umunna said the PM now appeared to have abandoned that agenda and was "smearing" those who backed it.

On Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 82% state-owned, announced a loss of £2bn for last year.


Last month chief executive Stephen Hester turned down his bonus of nearly £1m following political pressure. The bank announced on Thursday that its investment bankers would share £390m in bonuses - of a total bonus pool for staff of £785m.

Addressing the Business in the Community conference, Mr Cameron said corporate and personal responsibility must "go hand in hand" to help build a strong society.

But he said the role business played in society - ranging from backing new schools to supporting literacy campaigns - should be "applauded not talked down".

"In recent months we've heard some dangerous rhetoric creep into our national debate that wealth creation is somehow anti-social, that people in business are out for themselves," he said.

"We have got to fight this mood with all we've got. Not just because it's wrong for our economy because we need the jobs and investment it brings, but because it's wrong for our society. Business is not just about making money, as vital as that is. It's also the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known."

'Confused and inconsistent'

Mr Cameron said he was "sick of anti-business snobbery", adding: "The snobbery that says business has no inherent moral worth like the state does, that it isn't really to be trusted, that it should stay out of social concerns and stick to making the money that pays the taxes."

The speech, in which the prime minister also defended the government's welfare-to-work scheme, echoes recent comments by Chancellor George Osborne in which he insisted the government was "relentlessly pro-business".

But Mr Umunna, shadow business secretary, said the prime minister's message was "confused and inconsistent".

"Last month he gave a 'moral capitalism' speech saying he would stand up to vested interests for the sake of our economy, our businesses and society, but this month he has abandoned that agenda, instead seeking to smear those who argue for a more responsible capitalism by claiming they are anti-wealth creation and guilty of snobbery."

He said Mr Cameron had declared a "truce with vested interests" on the day RBS announced bonuses to "loss-making investment bankers" and British Gas announced "huge profits".

Business leaders have suggested the uproar over bonuses at top banks could deter investment in the UK, while senior figures on the right of the Conservative Party have been calling on the government to do more to help business in next month's Budget.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox has said business taxes must be cut across the board, while senior Tory backbencher David Davis has said there must be increased focus on small employers to stimulate growth.

'Reward for failure'

In an article for Prospect magazine, Mr Davis said the government had got "too close" to big business in the past.

He said Mr Osborne's Budget next month would be the last chance to build a strong foundation for the economy ahead of the next election - since tax measures take years to have an impact.

Some Conservatives have also called for the 50p top rate of tax to be abolished but that is being resisted by the Lib Dems, whose leader Nick Clegg has said it would have to be replaced by a tax on wealth or property.

Meanwhile the trade union Unison has said RBS bonuses were a "reward for failure".

General secretary Dave Prentis said: "This bonus pot could pay for more than 32,000 nurses, midwives and paramedics. It could fund more than 68,000 care workers, or 27,000 social workers - what do you think is worth more to our country? The government needs to ditch its warm words on fairness and take real action."

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