The Labour leader’s comments follow a series of policy announcements designed to help Labour cosy up with business.
The shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said that Labour would cap corporation tax at 25 per cent in the first parliamentary term of government.
Ms Reeves also said yesterday that Labour would not reinstate the cap on bankers bonuses, after it was removed under former Conservative prime minister Liz Truss’ premiership in 2022.
Speaking at his party’s business conference in central London, Sir Keir said: “I’d like you all to cast your mind back to 2019.
“Let’s imagine that you were invited to an event like this, a Labour business conference, before any of the changes to our party had taken place.
“The question is, would you go? Would you as a wealth creator feel that your ambition, the vital role you play in our economy commanded the respect it deserves?”
Labour’s business blitz has evoked some ire from the left of the party, with both unions and MPs questioning the party’s commitment to working people at the expense of the interests of big business.
Left-wing grassroots organisation, Momentum, called the decision not reinstate the cap "a terrible decision totally out of touch with Labour's values and public opinion”, while Neal Compass, director of leftwing think tank Compass, stated:
“The UK’s corporation tax rate is already the lowest in the G7. Labour’s pledge today not to raise it in government only serves to underline how difficult it is to change things under our political system.
More and more people and organisations want a society that is fairer and more equal and better investment in our crumbling public services. But to win under FPTP [first past the post] means promising to the corporate lobby that nothing much will change, and so dissatisfaction with politics grows.”
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, has previously declared the party as “unashamedly pro-worker and pro-business”, explaining that working people want “growth that they both create and share – jobs that are well paid and secure, communities that can stand on their own feet, public services that are strong enough to help them succeed”.
Thus far the party has put economic growth at the top of their agenda, making it their core “mission”. Labour leaders have been engaging in a long-standing charm offensive with businesses up and down the country.
The approch marks a significant change in policy from the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was known for being more cynical of business and the financial sector, having called bankers “speculators and gamblers”.
Mr Corbyn has since hit back at Labour’s announcement not to cap banker’s bonuses.
On social media site X, the former Labour leader wrote:
Refusing to scrap the 2-child benefit cap is a political choice to impoverish the worst-off.
Refusing to reinstate the bankers' bonus cap is a political choice to enrich the wealthy.
4.2 million children are living in poverty, but will nobody think of the bankers?
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) January 31, 2024
“Refusing to scrap the 2-child benefit cap is a political choice to impoverish the worst-off.
“Refusing to reinstate the bankers’ bonus cap is a political choice to enrich the wealthy.
“4.2 million children are living in poverty, but will nobody think of the bankers?”
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer told delegates at the sold-out conference that the “caricature that British business only serves the shareholder interest is lazy and out of date”.
He told senior executives and investors that “one of the things I draw great hope from” is the “determination I see from the countless business leaders I’ve met to serve the national interest.”
He stressed the “partnership” between Labour and business, saying “your fingerprints (are) on every one of our five missions.”
“Everything we do is driven by a determination to provide the businesses, communities and people of this nation with the conditions to succeed,” he added.